Activation of the stress-activated mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAP kinases), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38, is necessary for the induction of apoptosis in neuronal cells; however, in other cell types their involvement may be stimulus-dependent. In the present study we investigate the activation of JNK and p38 in a single non-neuronal cell type, undergoing receptor-mediated (tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand and CD95) or chemically-induced (lactacystin) apoptosis. In Jurkat T-cells, receptor-mediated and chemically-induced apoptosis resulted in a time-dependent activation of the initiator caspases-8 and -9, respectively. Both types of stimuli resulted in a significant activation of JNK and p38, which closely paralleled the time-dependent induction of apoptosis. The caspase inhibitor, benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-(OMe) fluoromethyl ketone (z-VAD.FMK) inhibited receptor-mediated apoptosis and suppressed JNK and p38 activation. In contrast, inhibition of lactacystin-induced apoptosis with z-VAD.FMK, as assessed by phosphatidylserine exposure and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage, did not inhibit activation of JNK or p38, demonstrating that during chemically-induced apoptosis, activation of JNK and p38 is independent of effector caspases. The role of p38 in apoptosis was assessed using the specific p38 inhibitor, SB203580. No effect on the induction of apoptosis or caspase activation was observed, although activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase-activated protein kinase-2 (MAPKAPK-2), an immediate downstream target of p38, was inhibited. Therefore neither p38 activation nor activation of MAPKAPK-2 is critical for induction of either receptor- or chemically-induced apoptosis. Thus, within a single cell type, (1) the mechanism of p38 and JNK activation during apoptosis is stimulus-dependent and (2) activation of the p38 pathway is not required for caspase activation or apoptosis, assessed by phosphatidylserine exposure, but may still be required to elicit other features of the apoptotic phenotype.

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