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J Biol Chem. 1998 Apr 17;273(16):9357-60.

Caspase-3 is required for DNA fragmentation and morphological changes associated with apoptosis.

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Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, The National University of Singapore, 30 Medical Drive, Singapore 117609, Republic of Singapore.


Interleukin 1beta-converting enzyme-like proteases (caspases) are crucial components of cell death pathways. Among the caspases identified, caspase-3 stands out because it is commonly activated by numerous death signals and cleaves a variety of important cellular proteins. Studies in caspase-3 knock-out mice have shown that this protease is essential for brain development. To investigate the requirement for caspase-3 in apoptosis, we took advantage of the MCF-7 breast carcinoma cell line, which we show here has lost caspase-3 owing to a 47-base pair deletion within exon 3 of the CASP-3 gene. This deletion results in the skipping of exon 3 during pre-mRNA splicing, thereby abrogating translation of the CASP-3 mRNA. Although MCF-7 cells were still sensitive to tumor necrosis factor (TNF)- or staurosporine-induced apoptosis, no DNA fragmentation was observed. In addition, MCF-7 cells undergoing cell death did not display some of the distinct morphological features typical of apoptotic cells such as shrinkage and blebbing. Introduction of the CASP-3 gene into MCF-7 cells resulted in DNA fragmentation and cellular blebbing following TNF treatment. These results indicate that although caspase-3 is not essential for TNF- or staurosporine-induced apoptosis, it is required for DNA fragmentation and some of the typical morphological changes of cells undergoing apoptosis.

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