Sequential activation of caspases is critical for the execution of apoptosis. Recent evidence suggests caspase 2 is a significant upstream caspase capable of initiating mitochondrial events, such as the release of cytochrome c. In particular, in vitro studies using recombinant proteins have shown that cleaved caspase 2 can induce mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization directly or by cleaving the BH3-only protein BID (BH3 interacting domain death agonist). However, whether interchain cleavage or activation of procaspase 2 occurs prior to Apaf-1-mediated procaspase 9 activation under more natural conditions remains unresolved. In the present study, we show that Apaf-1-deficient Jurkat T-lymphocytes and mouse embryonic fibroblasts were highly resistant to DNA-damage-induced apoptosis and failed to cleave or activate any apoptotic procaspase, including caspase 2. Significantly, drug-induced cytochrome c release and loss of mitochondrial membrane potential were inhibited in cells lacking Apaf-1. By comparison, procaspase proteolysis and apoptosis were only delayed slightly in Apaf-1-deficient Jurkat cells upon treatment with anti-Fas antibody. Our data support a model in which Apaf-1 is necessary for the cleavage or activation of all procaspases and the promotion of mitochondrial apoptotic events induced by genotoxic drugs.

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