Apaf-1−/− or caspase-3−/− cells treated with a variety of apoptosis inducers manifest apoptosis-associated alterations including the translocation of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) from mitochondria to nuclei, large scale DNA fragmentation, and initial chromatin condensation (stage I). However, when compared with normal control cells, Apaf-1−/− or caspase-3−/− cells fail to exhibit oligonucleosomal chromatin digestion and a more advanced pattern of chromatin condensation (stage II). Microinjection of such cells with recombinant AIF only causes peripheral chromatin condensation (stage I), whereas microinjection with activated caspase-3 or its downstream target caspase-activated DNAse (CAD) causes a more pronounced type of chromatin condensation (stage II). Similarly, when added to purified HeLa nuclei, AIF causes stage I chromatin condensation and large-scale DNA fragmentation, whereas CAD induces stage II chromatin condensation and oligonucleosomal DNA degradation. Furthermore, in a cell-free system, concomitant neutralization of AIF and CAD is required to suppress the nuclear DNA loss caused by cytoplasmic extracts from apoptotic wild-type cells. In contrast, AIF depletion alone suffices to suppress the nuclear DNA loss contained in extracts from apoptotic Apaf-1−/− or caspase-3−/− cells. As a result, at least two redundant parallel pathways may lead to chromatin processing during apoptosis. One of these pathways involves Apaf-1 and caspases, as well as CAD, and leads to oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation and advanced chromatin condensation. The other pathway, which is caspase-independent, involves AIF and leads to large-scale DNA fragmentation and peripheral chromatin condensation.
Keywords: apoptosis-inducing factor, Apaf-1, chromatin condensation, caspases, caspase-activated DNase