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Minimal ectopic expression of a 58-kDa protein kinase (PITSLRE beta 1), distantly related to members of the cdc2 gene family, induces telophase delay, abnormal chromosome segregation, and decreased growth rates in Chinese hamster ovary cells. Here we show that this decrease in cell growth rate is due to apoptosis. Apoptosis is also induced by ectopic expression of an amino-terminal deletion mutant containing the catalytic and C-terminal domains of PITSLRE beta 1 but not by other mutants lacking histone H1 kinase activity or by other members of the cdc2 gene family. However, unlike the wild-type PITSLRE beta 1 over-expressors, ectopic expression of the N-terminal PITSLRE beta 1 mutant does not result in telophase delay or abnormal chromosome segregation. These results suggested that the function of this protein kinase could be linked to apoptotic signaling. To test this hypothesis, we examined levels of PITSLRE mRNA, steady-state protein, and enzyme activity in human T cells undergoing apoptosis after activation with the anti-Fas monoclonal antibody (MAb). All were substantially elevated shortly after Fas MAb treatment. In addition to new transcription and translation, proteolysis contributed to the increased steady-state levels of a novel 50-kDa PITSLRE protein, as suggested by the diminution of larger PITSLRE isoforms observed in the same cells. Indeed, treatment of the Fas-activated T cells with a serine protease inhibitor prevented apoptotic death and led to the accumulation of larger, less active PITSLRE kinase isoforms but not the enzymatically active 50-kDa PITSLRE isoform. Finally, induction of apoptosis by glucocorticoids in the same cell line, as well as by Fas MAb treatment of another T-cell line, led to a similar induction of 50-kDa PITSLRE protein levels over time. These findings suggest that (i) PITSLRE kinase(s) may lie within apoptotic signaling pathway(s), (ii) serine protease activation may be an early event in Fas-activated apoptosis of human T cells, and (iii) some PITSLRE kinase isoforms may be targets of apoptotic proteases.