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Oncogene. 1998 Mar 26;16(12):1587-91.

Overexpression of Bax gene sensitizes K562 erythroleukemia cells to apoptosis induced by selective chemotherapeutic agents.

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Department of Neuro-Oncology, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030, USA.


Bax and Bcl-2 are a pair of important genes that control programmed cell death, or apoptosis, with Bax being the apoptosis promoter and Bcl-2 the apoptosis protector. Although the detailed mechanism is unknown, the protein products of these two genes form protein dimers with each other and the relative ratio of the two proteins is believed to be a determinant of the balance between life and death. In our preliminary study, we found that K562 erythroleukemia cells have an extremely low level of endogenous Bcl-2 expression and a fairly high level of endogenous Bax expression. We constructed Bax and Bcl-2 expression vectors and transfected them into K562 cells. We found that transfection of Bax vector increased the expression of Bax protein; a shortened form of Bax also appeared. Cell death analysis using the Annexin V assay showed that the Bax vector caused significantly more apoptotic cells that the Bcl-2 or pCI-neo vector did. After selection with G418, Bax, Bcl-2 and pCI-neo stably transfected cells were established. These three cell lines were examined for their response to the chemotherapeutic agents ara-C, doxorubicin, etoposide and SN-38. Bax-K562 cells showed significantly higher fractions of apoptotic cells than pCI-neo-K562 cells when treated with ara-C, doxorubicin or SN-38. No sensitization effect was seen when etoposide was used. In contrast, Bcl-2-K562 cells had fewer apoptotic cells than pCI-neo-K562 cells after treatment with all these agents. Therefore, Bax may sensitize K562 cells to apoptosis induced by a wide range of, but not all, chemotherapeutic agents.

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