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1.  Apoptosis-Inducing Factor: Structure, Function, and Redox Regulation 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2011;14(12):2545-2579.
Apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) is a flavin adenine dinucleotide-containing, NADH-dependent oxidoreductase residing in the mitochondrial intermembrane space whose specific enzymatic activity remains unknown. Upon an apoptotic insult, AIF undergoes proteolysis and translocates to the nucleus, where it triggers chromatin condensation and large-scale DNA degradation in a caspase-independent manner. Besides playing a key role in execution of caspase-independent cell death, AIF has emerged as a protein critical for cell survival. Analysis of in vivo phenotypes associated with AIF deficiency and defects, and identification of its mitochondrial, cytoplasmic, and nuclear partners revealed the complexity and multilevel regulation of AIF-mediated signal transduction and suggested an important role of AIF in the maintenance of mitochondrial morphology and energy metabolism. The redox activity of AIF is essential for optimal oxidative phosphorylation. Additionally, the protein is proposed to regulate the respiratory chain indirectly, through assembly and/or stabilization of complexes I and III. This review discusses accumulated data with respect to the AIF structure and outlines evidence that supports the prevalent mechanistic view on the apoptogenic actions of the flavoprotein, as well as the emerging concept of AIF as a redox sensor capable of linking NAD(H)-dependent metabolic pathways to apoptosis. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 14, 2545–2579.
Multiple Forms of AIF
AIF precursor
Membrane-tethered mature AIFΔ1–54
Soluble apoptogenic AIFΔ1–102/118
AIF associated with the outer mitochondrial membrane
Splice variants AIF2, AIFsh, AIFsh2, and AIFsh3
Transcriptional Regulation
Phylogenetic Roots
Redox Properties of Recombinant AIF
Refolded murine AIFΔ1–120
Refolded human AIFsh2
Naturally folded murine AIFΔ1–53 and Δ1–101
AIF Structure
X-ray structures of murine and human AIFΔ1–120
X-ray structure of murine AIFΔ1–77
X-ray structure of reduced NAD-bound murine AIFΔ1–101
Redox-linked changes in the active site
Reorganization in the C-terminal domain
Conformational changes in the 509–559 peptide
Role of AIF in PCD
Apoptogenic effects of AIF in cell free systems and live cells
Release of mitochondrial AIF
Proteolysis of mature AIF
Release of truncated AIF into the cytoplasm
Release of AIF associated with the outer mitochondrial membrane
Cytoplasmic interactions of apoptogenic AIF
Pro-survival partners of AIF
Heat shock protein Hsp70
X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein
Pro-death partners of AIF
Eukaryotic translation initiation factor 3 subunit p44
T-cell ubiquitin ligand
Cyclophilin A
Phospholipid scramblase
Nuclear effects of apoptogenic AIF
Transport of AIF to the nucleus
Interaction of AIF with DNA
Nuclear partners of AIF
Endonuclease G
Cyclophilin A
Histone H2AX
Relocation of AIF in late apoptosis
Apoptogenic properties of the AIF homologs
D. melanogaster
D. discoideum
Tetrahymena thermophila
S. cerevisiae
Vital Functions of Mitochondrial AIF
Role of AIF in mitochondrial respiration
Hq mouse phenotype
Tissue-specific AIF defects
Role of AIF in neurodegeneration, neurogenesis, and neuroprotection
AIF deficiency in lower eukaryotes
AIF and mitochondrial morphology
Mitochondrial abnormalities in telencephalon-specific AIFΔ mice
Association of AIF with the optic atrophy 1 protein
AIF isoform-specific cristae morphology
Human mitochondrial encephalomyopathy linked to the AIFΔ201 mutation
D. Involvement of AIF in regulation of cytoplasmic stress granules
Possible Redox Sensing Role of AIF
Concluding Remarks
PMCID: PMC3096518  PMID: 20868295
2.  Combined inhibition of cell death induced by apoptosis inducing factor and caspases provides additive neuroprotection in experimental traumatic brain injury 
Neurobiology of Disease  2012;46(3):745-758.
Neuronal programmed cell death (PCD) contributes to delayed tissue damage after traumatic brain injury (TBI). Both caspase-dependent and caspase-independent mechanisms have been implicated, with the latter including apoptosis inducing factor (AIF). The peptidyl-proplyl isomerase Cyclophilin A (CypA) transports AIF from the cytosol to the nucleus, a key step for AIF-dependent cell death. We compared the effects of single versus combined inhibition of caspase and AIF pathways in a mouse controlled cortical impact (CCI) model, by examining the effects of CypA gene knockout (CypA−/−), caspase inhibition with a pan-caspase inhibitor (boc-aspartyl(OMe)-fluoromethylketone, BAF), or combined modulation. TBI caused caspase activation as well as translocation of AIF to the nucleus. Markers of caspase activation including caspase-specific fodrin cleavage fragments and number of FLIVO positive cells were reduced in BAF-treated CypA+/+ mice, whereas markers of AIF activation including AIF/H2AX interaction and AIF translocation to the nucleus were attenuated in CypA−/− mice. Each single intervention, (CypA−/− or BAF-treated CypA+/+) reduced the number of apoptotic cells (TUNEL-positive) in the cortex and improved long-term sensorimotor function; CypA−/− also attenuated microglial activation after injury. Importantly, BAF-treated CypA−/− mice, showed greater effects than either intervention alone on multiple outcomes including: reduction in TUNEL-positive cells, decrease in neuroinflammation, improved motor and cognitive recovery, and attenuation of lesion volume and neuronal loss in the hippocampus. Using two in vitro neuronal cell death models known to induce AIF-mediated PCD, we also showed that neurons from CypA−/− animals were protected and that effects were unrelated to caspase activation. These data indicate that AIF-mediated and caspase-dependent pathways contribute independently and in parallel to secondary injury after TBI, and suggest that combined therapeutic strategies directed at multiple PCD pathways may provide superior neuroprotection than those directed at single mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3352990  PMID: 22426396
Traumatic Brain Injury; Apoptosis Inducing Factor; Caspase; Cyclophilin A
3.  The molecular archaeology of a mitochondrial death effector: AIF in Drosophila 
Cell death and differentiation  2008;15(6):1009-1018.
Apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) is a phylogenetically conserved redox-active flavoprotein that contributes to cell death and oxidative phosphorylation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Caenorhabditis elegans, mouse and humans. AIF has been characterized as a caspase-independent death effector that is activated by its translocation from mitochondria to the cytosol and nucleus. Here, we report the molecular characterization of AIF in Drosophila melanogaster, a species in which most cell deaths occur in a caspase-dependent manner. Interestingly, knockout of zygotic D. melanogaster AIF (DmAIF) expression using gene targeting resulted in decreased embryonic cell death and the persistence of differentiated neuronal cells at late embryonic stages. Although knockout embryos hatch, they undergo growth arrest at early larval stages, accompanied by mitochondrial respiratory dysfunction. Transgenic expression of DmAIF misdirected to the extramitochondrial compartment (ΔN-DmAIF), but not wild-type DmAIF, triggered ectopic caspase activation and cell death. ΔN-DmAIF-induced death was not blocked by removal of caspase activator Dark or transgenic expression of baculoviral caspase inhibitor p35, but was partially inhibited by Diap1 overexpression. Knockdown studies revealed that ΔN-DmAIF interacts genetically with the redox protein thioredoxin-2. In conclusion, we show that Drosophila AIF is a mitochondrial effector of cell death that plays roles in developmentally regulated cell death and normal mitochondrial function.
PMCID: PMC2907157  PMID: 18309327
mitochondria; oxidative phosphorylation; Drosophila
4.  Control of AIF-mediated cell death by antagonistic functions of CHIP ubiquitin E3 ligase and USP2 deubiquitinating enzyme 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2011;18(8):1326-1336.
Apoptosis inducing factor (AIF) is a mitochondrial oxidoreductase that scavenges reactive oxygen species under normal conditions. Under certain stresses, such as exposure to N-methyl-N′-nitro-N′-nitrosoguanidine (MNNG), AIF is truncated and released from the mitochondria and translocated into the nucleus, where the truncated AIF (tAIF) induces caspase-independent cell death. However, it is unknown how cells decide to kill themselves or operate ways to survive when they encounter stresses that induce the release of tAIF. Here, we demonstrated that USP2 and CHIP contribute to the control of tAIF stability. USP2 deubiquitinated and stabilized tAIF, thus promoting AIF-mediated cell death. In contrast, CHIP ubiquitinated and destabilized tAIF, thus preventing the cell death. Consistently, CHIP-deficient cells showed an increased sensitivity to MNNG. On the other hand, knockdown of USP2 attenuated MNNG-induced cell death. Moreover, exposure to MNNG caused a dramatic decrease in CHIP level, but not that of USP2, concurrent with cell shrinkage and chromatin condensation. These findings indicate that CHIP and USP2 show antagonistic functions in the control of AIF-mediated cell death, and implicate the role of the enzymes as a switch for cells to live or die under stresses that cause tAIF release.
PMCID: PMC3172096  PMID: 21293491
apoptosis inducing factor; caspase-independent cell death; CHIP; USP2; ubiquitin
5.  The expression of apoptosis inducing factor (AIF) is associated with aging-related cell death in the cortex but not in the hippocampus in the TgCRND8 mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease 
BMC Neuroscience  2014;15:73.
Recent evidence has suggested that Alzheimer’s disease (AD)-associated neuronal loss may occur via the caspase-independent route of programmed cell death (PCD) in addition to caspase-dependent mechanisms. However, the brain region specificity of caspase-independent PCD in AD-associated neurodegeneration is unknown. We therefore used the transgenic CRND8 (TgCRND8) AD mouse model to explore whether the apoptosis inducing factor (AIF), a key mediator of caspase-independent PCD, contributes to cell loss in selected brain regions in the course of aging.
Increased expression of truncated AIF (tAIF), which is directly responsible for cell death induction, was observed at both 4- and 6-months of age in the cortex. Concomitant with the up-regulation of tAIF was an increase in the nuclear translocation of this protein. Heightened tAIF expression or translocation was not observed in the hippocampus or cerebellum, which were used as AD-vulnerable and relatively AD-spared regions, respectively. The cortical alterations in tAIF levels were accompanied by increased Bax expression and mitochondrial translocation. This effect was preceded by a significant reduction in ATP content and an increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, detectable at 2 months of age despite negligible amounts of amyloid-beta peptides (Aβ).
Taken together, these data suggest that AIF is likely to play a region-specific role in AD-related caspase-independent PCD, which is consistent with aging-associated mitochondrial impairment and oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC4070095  PMID: 24915960
Programmed cell death (PCD); Caspase-independent; Amyloid-beta peptide; Oxidative stress; Brain
6.  Inhibition of the AIF/CypA complex protects against intrinsic death pathways induced by oxidative stress 
Cell Death & Disease  2014;5(1):e993-.
Delayed neuronal cell death largely contributes to the progressive infarct development and associated functional impairments after cerebral ischemia or brain trauma. Previous studies exposed a key role for the interaction of the mitochondrial protein apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) and cytosolic cyclophilin A (CypA) in pathways of programmed cell death in neurons in vitro and in vivo. These studies suggested that pro-apoptotic activities of AIF, such as its translocation to the nucleus and subsequent DNA degradation, depend on the physical interaction of AIF with CypA. Hence, this protein complex may represent a new pharmacological target for inhibiting the lethal action of AIF on the brain tissue. In this study, we show that the AIF amino-acid residues 370–394 mediate the protein complex formation of AIF with CypA. The synthetic AIF(370–394) peptide inhibited AIF/CypA complex formation in vitro by binding CypA with a KD of 12 μM. Further, the peptide exerted pronounced neuroprotective effects in a model of glutamate-induced oxidative stress in cultured HT-22 cells. In this model system of AIF-dependent cell death, the AIF(370–394) peptide preserved mitochondrial integrity, as detected by measurements of the mitochondrial membrane potential and quantification of mitochondrial fragmentation. Further, the AIF(370–394) peptide inhibited perinuclear accumulation of fragmented mitochondria, mitochondrial release of AIF to the nucleus and glutamate-induced cell death to a similar extent as CypA-siRNA. These data indicate that the targeting of the AIF-CypA axis is an effective strategy of neuroprotection.
PMCID: PMC4040673  PMID: 24434516
AIF/CypA complex; mitochondria; neuronal death; oxidative stress; peptide inhibitor
7.  Bid-induced release of AIF from mitochondria causes immediate neuronal cell death 
Cell death and differentiation  2008;15(10):1553-1563.
Mitochondrial dysfunction and release of pro-apoptotic factors such as cytochrome c or apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) from mitochondria are key features of neuronal cell death. The precise mechanisms of how these proteins are released from mitochondria and their particular role in neuronal cell death signaling are however largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate by fluorescence video microscopy that 8–10 h after induction of glutamate toxicity, AIF rapidly translocates from mitochondria to the nucleus and induces nuclear fragmentation and cell death within only a few minutes. This markedly fast translocation of AIF to the nucleus is preceded by increasing translocation of the pro-apoptotic bcl-2 family member Bid (BH3-interacting domain death agonist) to mitochondria, perinuclear accumulation of Bid-loaded mitochondria, and loss of mitochondrial membrane integrity. A small molecule Bid inhibitor preserved mitochondrial membrane potential, prevented nuclear translocation of AIF, and abrogated glutamate-induced neuronal cell death, as shown by experiments using Bid small interfering RNA (siRNA). Cell death induced by truncated Bid was inhibited by AIF siRNA, indicating that caspase-independent AIF signaling is the main pathway through which Bid mediates cell death. This was further supported by experiments showing that although caspase-3 was activated, specific caspase-3 inhibition did not protect neuronal cells against glutamate toxicity. In conclusion, Bid-mediated mitochondrial release of AIF followed by rapid nuclear translocation is a major mechanism of glutamate-induced neuronal death.
PMCID: PMC2862690  PMID: 18535584
HT-22 cells; glutamate; apoptosis; mitochondrial membrane potential; caspase-independent cell death
8.  Apoptosis-Inducing Factor Regulates Skeletal Muscle Progenitor Cell Number and Muscle Phenotype 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27283.
Apoptosis Inducing Factor (AIF) is a highly conserved, ubiquitous flavoprotein localized in the mitochondrial intermembrane space. In vivo, AIF provides protection against neuronal and cardiomyocyte apoptosis induced by oxidative stress. Conversely in vitro, AIF has been demonstrated to have a pro-apoptotic role upon induction of the mitochondrial death pathway, once AIF translocates to the nucleus where it facilitates chromatin condensation and large scale DNA fragmentation. Given that the aif hypomorphic harlequin (Hq) mutant mouse model displays severe sarcopenia, we examined skeletal muscle from the aif hypomorphic mice in more detail. Adult AIF-deficient skeletal myofibers display oxidative stress and a severe form of atrophy, associated with a loss of myonuclei and a fast to slow fiber type switch, both in “slow” muscles such as soleus, as well as in “fast” muscles such as extensor digitorum longus, most likely resulting from an increase of MEF2 activity. This fiber type switch was conserved in regenerated soleus and EDL muscles of Hq mice subjected to cardiotoxin injection. In addition, muscle regeneration in soleus and EDL muscles of Hq mice was severely delayed. Freshly cultured myofibers, soleus and EDL muscle sections from Hq mice displayed a decreased satellite cell pool, which could be rescued by pretreating aif hypomorphic mice with the manganese-salen free radical scavenger EUK-8. Satellite cell activation seems to be abnormally long in Hq primary culture compared to controls. However, AIF deficiency did not affect myoblast cell proliferation and differentiation. Thus, AIF protects skeletal muscles against oxidative stress-induced damage probably by protecting satellite cells against oxidative stress and maintaining skeletal muscle stem cell number and activation.
PMCID: PMC3208607  PMID: 22076146
9.  Apoptosis-inducing factor is involved in the regulation of caspase-independent neuronal cell death 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2002;158(3):507-517.
Caspase-independent death mechanisms have been shown to execute apoptosis in many types of neuronal injury. P53 has been identified as a key regulator of neuronal cell death after acute injury such as DNA damage, ischemia, and excitotoxicity. Here, we demonstrate that p53 can induce neuronal cell death via a caspase-mediated process activated by apoptotic activating factor-1 (Apaf1) and via a delayed onset caspase-independent mechanism. In contrast to wild-type cells, Apaf1-deficient neurons exhibit delayed DNA fragmentation and only peripheral chromatin condensation. More importantly, we demonstrate that apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) is an important factor involved in the regulation of this caspase-independent neuronal cell death. Immunofluorescence studies demonstrate that AIF is released from the mitochondria by a mechanism distinct from that of cytochrome-c in neurons undergoing p53-mediated cell death. The Bcl-2 family regulates this release of AIF and subsequent caspase-independent cell death. In addition, we show that enforced expression of AIF can induce neuronal cell death in a Bax- and caspase-independent manner. Microinjection of neutralizing antibodies against AIF significantly decreased injury-induced neuronal cell death in Apaf1-deficient neurons, indicating its importance in caspase-independent apoptosis. Taken together, our results suggest that AIF may be an important therapeutic target for the treatment of neuronal injury.
PMCID: PMC2173837  PMID: 12147675
neurodegeneration; neurons; apoptosis; p53; Bax
10.  Two Distinct Pathways Leading to Nuclear Apoptosis 
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.
PMCID: PMC2193229  PMID: 10952727
apoptosis-inducing factor; Apaf-1; chromatin condensation; caspases; caspase-activated DNase
11.  Mitochondrial μ-calpain is not involved in the processing of apoptosis-inducing factor 
Experimental neurology  2009;218(2):221-227.
Caspase-independent cell death, an important death pathway in many cells including neurons, is executed via apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF), an oxidoreductase, localized to the mitochondrial intermembrane space. AIF is processed and released from mitochondria following mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP) formation, and translocates to the nucleus to induce DNA fragmentation and cell death. The release of AIF requires cleavage of its N-terminus anchored in the inner mitochondrial membrane. The protease responsible for this AIF truncation has not been established, although there is considerable evidence suggesting a role for μ-calpain. We previously found that a pool of μ-calpain is localized to the mitochondrial intermembrane space, the submitochondrial compartment in which AIF truncation occurs. The close submitochondrial proximity of mitochondrial μ-calpain and AIF gives support to the hypothesis that mitochondrial μ-calpain may be the protease responsible for processing AIF prior to its release. In the present study, AIF was released from rat liver mitochondria following mPTP induction by atractyloside. This release was inhibited by the cysteine protease inhibitor MDL28170, but not by more specific calpain inhibitors PD150606 and human erythrocyte calpastatin. Atractyloside caused swelling in rat brain mitochondria, but did not induce AIF release. In a mitochondrial fraction from SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells, incubation with 5 mM Ca2+ resulted in the activation of μ-calpain but not in AIF truncation. In summary, the localization of μ-calpain to the mitochondrial intermembrane space is suggestive of its possible involvement in AIF processing, but direct experimental evidence supporting such a role has been elusive.
PMCID: PMC2756010  PMID: 19393648
12.  Influence of Duration of Focal Cerebral Ischemia and Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase on Translocation of Apoptosis-Inducing Factor to the Nucleus 
Neuroscience  2006;144(1):56-65.
Translocation of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) from the mitochondria to the nucleus can play a major role in neuronal death elicited by oxidant stress. The time course of nuclear translocation of AIF after experimental stroke may vary with the severity of injury and may be accelerated by oxidant stress associated with reperfusion and nitric oxide (NO) production. Western immunoblots of AIF on nuclear fractions of ischemic hemisphere of male mice showed no significant increase with 1 hour of middle cerebral artery occlusion and no reperfusion, whereas increases were detectable after 6 and 24 hours of permanent ischemia. However, as little as 20 minutes of reperfusion after 1 hour of middle cerebral artery occlusion resulted in an increase in nuclear AIF coincident with an increase in poly(ADP-ribose) polymer (PAR) formation. Further nuclear AIF accumulation was seen at 6 and 24 hours of reperfusion. In contrast, 20 minutes of reperfusion after 2 hours of occlusion did not increase nuclear AIF. In this case, nuclear AIF became detectable at 6 and 24 hours of reperfusion. With brief occlusion of 30 minute duration, nuclear AIF remained undetectable at both 20 minutes and 6 hours and became evident only after 24 hours of reperfusion. Inhibition of neuronal NO synthase attenuated formation of PAR and nuclear AIF accumulation. Gene deletion of neuronal NO synthase also attenuated nuclear AIF accumulation. Therefore, reperfusion accelerates AIF translocation to the nucleus when focal ischemia is of moderate duration (1 hour), but is markedly delayed after brief ischemia (30 minutes). Nuclear translocation of AIF eventually occurs with prolonged focal ischemia with or without reperfusion. Neuronally-derived NO is a major factor contributing to nuclear AIF accumulation after stroke.
PMCID: PMC1876769  PMID: 17049179
apoptosis; middle cerebral artery; mouse; poly(ADP-ribose); reperfusion; stroke
13.  Glutamate-induced apoptosis in neuronal cells is mediated via caspase-dependent and independent mechanisms involving calpain and caspase-3 proteases as well as apoptosis inducing factor (AIF) and this process is inhibited by equine estrogens 
BMC Neuroscience  2006;7:49.
Glutamate, a major excitatory amino acid neurotransmitter, causes apoptotic neuronal cell death at high concentrations. Our previous studies have shown that depending on the neuronal cell type, glutamate-induced apoptotic cell death was associated with regulation of genes such as Bcl-2, Bax, and/or caspase-3 and mitochondrial cytochrome c. To further delineate the intracellular mechanisms, we have investigated the role of calpain, an important calcium-dependent protease thought to be involved in apoptosis along with mitochondrial apoptosis inducing factor (AIF) and caspase-3 in primary cortical cells and a mouse hippocampal cell line HT22.
Glutamate-induced apoptotic cell death in neuronal cells was associated with characteristic DNA fragmentation, morphological changes, activation of calpain and caspase-3 as well as the upregulation and/or translocation of AIF from mitochondria into cytosol and nuclei. Our results reveal that primary cortical cells and HT22 cells display different patterns of regulation of these genes/proteins. In primary cortical cells, glutamate induces activation of calpain, caspase-3 and translocation of AIF from mitochondria to cytosol and nuclei. In contrast, in HT22 cells, only the activation of calpain and upregulation and translocation of AIF occurred. In both cell types, these processes were inhibited/reversed by 17β-estradiol and Δ8,17β-estradiol with the latter being more potent.
Depending upon the neuronal cell type, at least two mechanisms are involved in glutamate-induced apoptosis: a caspase-3-dependent pathway and a caspase-independent pathway involving calpain and AIF. Since HT22 cells lack caspase-3, glutamate-induced apoptosis is mediated via the caspase-independent pathway in this cell line. Kinetics of this apoptotic pathway further indicate that calpain rather than caspase-3, plays a critical role in the glutamate-induced apoptosis. Our studies further indicate that glutamate- induced changes of these proteins can be inhibited by estrogens, with Δ8,17β-estradiol, a novel equine estrogen being more potent than 17β-estradiol. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that glutamate-induced apoptosis involves regulation of multiple apoptotic effectors that can be inhibited by estrogens. Whether these observations can help in the development of novel therapeutic approaches for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases with estrogens and calpain inhibitors remains to be investigated.
PMCID: PMC1526740  PMID: 16776830
14.  Apoptosis Control in Syncytia Induced by the HIV Type 1–Envelope Glycoprotein Complex 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2000;192(8):1081-1092.
Syncytia arising from the fusion of cells expressing a lymphotropic HIV type 1–encoded envelope glycoprotein complex (Env) with cells expressing the CD4/CXC chemokine receptor 4 complex spontaneously undergo cell death. Here we show that this process is accompanied by caspase activation and signs of mitochondrial membrane permeabilization (MMP), including the release of intermembrane proteins such as cytochrome c (Cyt-c) and apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) from mitochondria. In Env-induced syncytia, caspase inhibition did not suppress AIF- and Cyt-c translocation, yet it prevented all signs of nuclear apoptosis. Translocation of Bax to mitochondria led to MMP, which was inhibited by microinjected Bcl-2 protein or bcl-2 transfection. Bcl-2 also prevented the subsequent nuclear chromatin condensation and DNA fragmentation. The release of AIF occurred before that of Cyt-c and before caspase activation. Microinjection of AIF into syncytia sufficed to trigger rapid, caspase-independent Cyt-c release. Neutralization of endogenous AIF by injection of an antibody prevented all signs of spontaneous apoptosis occurring in syncytia, including the Cyt-c release and nuclear apoptosis. In contrast, Cyt-c neutralization only prevented nuclear apoptosis, and did not affect AIF release. Our results establish that the following molecular sequence governs apoptosis of Env-induced syncytia: Bax-mediated/Bcl-2–inhibited MMP → AIF release → Cyt-c release → caspase activation → nuclear apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC2195869  PMID: 11034598
apoptosis-inducing factor; Bcl-2; cell death; cytochrome c; glycoprotein 120
15.  Poly (ADP-ribose) (PAR) Binding to Apoptosis-Inducing Factor Is Critical For PAR Polymerase-1-Dependent Cell Death (Parthanatos) 
Science signaling  2011;4(167):ra20.
The mitochondrial protein apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) plays a pivotal role in poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 (PARP-1)-mediated cell death (parthanatos), during which it is released from the mitochondria and translocates to the nucleus. Here, we show that AIF is a high affinity poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR)–binding protein and that PAR binding to AIF is required for parthanatos both in vitro and in vivo. AIF bound PAR at a site distinct from AIF’s DNA binding site and this interaction triggered AIF release from the cytosolic side of the mitochondrial outer membrane. Mutation of the PAR binding site in AIF did not affect its NADH oxidase activity, its ability to bind FAD or DNA, or its ability to induce nuclear condensation. However, this AIF mutant was not released from mitochondria and did not translocate to the nucleus or mediate cell death following PARP-1 activation. These results suggest a mechanism for PARP-1 to initiate AIF-mediated cell death and indicate that AIF’s bioenergetic cell survival-promoting functions are separate from its effects as a mitochondrially-derived death effector. Interference with the PAR-AIF interaction or PAR signaling may provide unique opportunities for preventing cell death following activation of PARP-1.
PMCID: PMC3086524  PMID: 21467298
16.  AIF, reactive oxygen species, and neurodegeneration: a “complex” problem 
Neurochemistry international  2012;62(5):695-702.
Apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) is a flavin-binding mitochondrial intermembrane space protein that is implicated in diverse but intertwined processes that include maintenance of electron transport chain function, reactive oxygen species regulation, cell death, and neurodegeneration. In acute brain injury, AIF acquires a pro-death role upon translocation from the mitochondria to the nucleus, where it initiates chromatin condensation and large-scale DNA fragmentation. Although harlequin mice exhibiting an 80–90% global reduction in AIF protein are resistant to numerous forms of acute brain injury, they paradoxically undergo slow, progressive neurodegeneration beginning at three months of age. Brain deterioration, accompanied by markers of oxidative stress, is most pronounced in the cerebellum and retina, although it also occurs in the cortex, striatum, and thalamus. Loss of an AIF pro-survival function linked to assembly or stabilization of electron transport chain complex I underlies chronic neurodegeneration. To date, most studies of neurodegeneration have failed to adequately separate the relative importance of the mitochondrial and nuclear functions of AIF in determining the extent of injury, or whether oxidative stress plays a causative role. This review explores the complicated relationship among AIF, complex I, and the regulation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species levels. It also discusses the controversial role of complex I deficiency in Parkinson’s disease, and what can be learned from the AIF- and complex I-depleted harlequin mouse.
PMCID: PMC3610861  PMID: 23246553
mitochondria; electron transport; complex I; harlequin; oxidative stress; Parkinson’s disease
17.  Outer mitochondrial membrane localization of apoptosis-inducing factor: mechanistic implications for release 
ASN NEURO  2009;1(5):e00021.
Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1-dependent cell death (known as parthanatos) plays a pivotal role in many clinically important events including ischaemia/reperfusion injury and glutamate excitotoxicity. A recent study by us has shown that uncleaved AIF (apoptosis-inducing factor), but not calpain-hydrolysed truncated-AIF, was rapidly released from the mitochondria during parthanatos, implicating a second pool of AIF that might be present in brain mitochondria contributing to the rapid release. In the present study, a novel AIF pool is revealed in brain mitochondria by multiple biochemical analyses. Approx. 30% of AIF loosely associates with the outer mitochondrial membrane on the cytosolic side, in addition to its main localization in the mitochondrial intermembrane space attached to the inner membrane. Immunogold electron microscopic analysis of mouse brain further supports AIF association with the outer, as well as the inner, mitochondrial membrane in vivo. In line with these observations, approx. 20% of uncleaved AIF rapidly translocates to the nucleus and functionally causes neuronal death upon NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate) treatment. In the present study we show for the first time a second pool of AIF in brain mitochondria and demonstrate that this pool does not require cleavage and that it contributes to the rapid release of AIF. Moreover, these results suggest that this outer mitochondrial pool of AIF is sufficient to cause cell death during parthanatos. Interfering with the release of this outer mitochondrial pool of AIF during cell injury paradigms that use parthanatos hold particular promise for novel therapies to treat neurological disorders.
PMCID: PMC2784601  PMID: 19863494
apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF); immunogold electron microscopy; mitochondrion; parthanatos; poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1; AIF, apoptosis-inducing factor; ANT, adenine nucleotide translocator; cyt c, cytochrome c; Hq, Harlequin; MnSOD, manganese superoxide dismutase; NMDA, N-methyl-d-aspartate; PARP-1, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1; ROI, region of interest; Smac, second mitochondrial-derived activator of caspase; Tim23, translocase of inner membrane 23; Tom20, translocase of outer membrane 20; VDAC, voltage-dependent anion channel; WT, wild-type
18.  Apoptosis inducing factor mediates caspase-independent 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium toxicity in dopaminergic cells 
Journal of neurochemistry  2005;94(6):1685-1695.
Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. These neurons are particularly sensitive to the neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+), the active metabolite of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), which causes parkinsonian syndromes in humans, monkeys and rodents. Although apoptotic cell death has been implicated in MPTP/MPP+ toxicity, several recent studies have challenged the role of caspase-dependent apoptosis in dopaminergic neurons. Using the midbrain-derived MN9D dopaminergic cell line, we found that MPP+ treatment resulted in an active form of cell death that could not be prevented by caspase inhibitors or over-expression of a dominant negative inhibitor of apoptotic protease activating factor 1/caspase-9. Apoptosis inducing factor (AIF) is a mitochondrial protein that may mediate caspase-independent forms of regulated cell death following its translocation to the nucleus. We found that MPP+ treatment elicited nuclear translocation of AIF accompanied by large-scale DNA fragmentation. To establish the role of AIF in MPP+ toxicity, we constructed a DNA vector encoding a short hairpin sequence targeted against AIF. Reduction of AIF expression by RNA interference inhibited large-scale DNA fragmentation and conferred significant protection against MPP+ toxicity. Studies of primary mouse midbrain cultures further supported a role for AIF in caspase-independent cell death in MPP+-treated dopaminergic neurons.
PMCID: PMC1868549  PMID: 16156740
dopaminergic cells; mitochondria; neuronal cell death; Parkinson’s disease; primary midbrain neurons; RNA interference
19.  Neuroprotective Actions of Ovarian Hormones Without Insult in the Raphe Region of Rhesus Macaques 
Neuroscience  2008;154(2):720-731.
Using a nonhuman primate model of surgical menopause, our laboratory has shown that ovarian hormone treatment (HT) improves serotonin neural function in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN). We further hypothesize that HT may increase serotonin neuronal resilience. Recent data from microarray analysis indicated that HT regulates gene expression in pathways that lead to apoptosis. In this study, we questioned whether HT alters protein expression in caspase-dependent and independent pathways. Ovariectomized monkeys received Silastic implants containing placebo (empty), estrogen (E) or E+ progesterone (P). A small block of the midbrain containing the DRN was dissected and subjected to subcellular fractionation, yielding cytosolic, nuclear and mitochondrial fractions( (n=4/group). The pro-apoptotic protein, JNK1 and its phosphorylation were decreased by E+P treatment in the cytosolic fraction. Downstream of JNK are proteins in the caspase-dependent and independent pathways. First, in the caspase-dependent pathway, cytoplasmic and mitochondrial fractions were immunoblotted for Bcl-2 family members, cytochrome c, Apaf1 and XIAP. However, the expression of these proteins did not differ among treatments. Pro-caspase 3 was decreased by E+P, but there was no evidence of active caspase in any group. Then, we examined the involvement of a protein in the caspase-independent pathway, called apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF). AIF mRNA (n=3/group) and AIF mitochondrial protein tended to decrease with hormone treatment. However, AIF protein in the nuclear fractions in E+P treated monkeys was significantly reduced. This indicates that HT is reducing the translocation of AIF from mitochondria to nucleus, thus inhibiting AIF-mediated apoptosis. AIF was immunocytochemically localized to large serotonin-like neurons of the dorsal raphe. This data suggests that in the absence of global trauma or ischemia, HT may act through the caspase-independent pathway to promote neuroprotection in the serotonin system.
PMCID: PMC2487674  PMID: 18486349
20.  Sequential Activation of Poly(ADP-Ribose) Polymerase 1, Calpains, and Bax Is Essential in Apoptosis-Inducing Factor-Mediated Programmed Necrosis▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(13):4844-4862.
Alkylating DNA damage induces a necrotic type of programmed cell death through the poly(ADP-ribose) polymerases (PARP) and apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF). Following PARP activation, AIF is released from mitochondria and translocates to the nucleus, where it causes chromatin condensation and DNA fragmentation. By employing a large panel of gene knockout cells, we identified and describe here two essential molecular links between PARP and AIF: calpains and Bax. Alkylating DNA damage initiated a p53-independent form of death involving PARP-1 but not PARP-2. Once activated, PARP-1 mediated mitochondrial AIF release and necrosis through a mechanism requiring calpains but not cathepsins or caspases. Importantly, single ablation of the proapoptotic Bcl-2 family member Bax, but not Bak, prevented both AIF release and alkylating DNA damage-induced death. Thus, Bax is indispensable for this type of necrosis. Our data also revealed that Bcl-2 regulates N-methyl-N′-nitro-N′-nitrosoguanidine-induced necrosis. Finally, we established the molecular ordering of PARP-1, calpains, Bax, and AIF activation, and we showed that AIF downregulation confers resistance to alkylating DNA damage-induced necrosis. Our data shed new light on the mechanisms regulating AIF-dependent necrosis and support the notion that, like apoptosis, necrosis could be a highly regulated cell death program.
PMCID: PMC1951482  PMID: 17470554
21.  NAD+ Depletion or PAR Polymer Formation: Which Plays the Role of Executioner in Ischemic Cell Death? 
Acta physiologica (Oxford, England)  2011;203(1):225-234.
Multiple cell death pathways are activated in cerebral ischemia. Much of the initial injury, especially in the core of the infarct where cerebral blood flow is severely reduced, is necrotic and secondary to severe energy failure. However there is considerable evidence that delayed cell death continues for several days, primarily in the penumbral region. As reperfusion therapies grow in number and effectiveness, restoration of blood flow early after injury may lead to a shift towards apoptosis. It is important to elucidate what are the key mediators of apoptotic cell death after stroke, as inhibition of apoptosis may have therapeutic implications. There are two well described pathways that lead to apoptotic cell death; the caspase pathway and the more recently described caspase-independent pathway triggered by Poly-ADP Ribose Polymers (PARP) activation. Caspase-induced cell death is initiated by release of mitochondrial cytochrome C, formation of the cytosolic apoptosome, and activation of endonucleases leading to a multitude of small randomly cleaved DNA fragments. In contrast caspase-independent cell death is secondary to activation of apoptosis inducing factor (AIF). Mitochondrial AIF translocates to the nucleus, where it induces peripheral chromatin condensation, as well as characteristic high-molecular-weight (50 kbp) DNA fragmentation. Although caspase independent cell death has been recognized for some time and is known to contribute to ischemic injury, the upstream triggering events leading to activation of this pathway remain unclear. The two major theories are that ischemia leads to NAD+ depletion and subsequent energy failure, or alternatively that cell death is directly triggered by a pro-apoptotic factor produced by activation of the DNA repair enzyme PARP. PARP activation is robust in the ischemic brain producing variable lengths of PAR polymers as byproducts of PARP activation. PAR polymers may be directly toxic by triggering mitochondrial AIF release independently of NAD+ depletion. Recently, sex differences have been discovered that illustrate the importance of understanding these molecular pathways, especially as new therapeutics targeting apoptotic cell death are developed. Cell death in females proceeds primarily via caspase activation whereas caspase-independent mechanisms triggered by the activation of Poly-ADP-Ribose Polymerase (PARP) predominate in the male brain. This review summarizes the current literature in an attempt to clarify the roles of NAD+ and PAR polymers in caspase-independent cell death, and discuss sex specific cell death to provide an example of the possible importance of these downstream mediators.
PMCID: PMC3135708  PMID: 21091637
Energy Metabolism; NAD+; PARP-1; PAR Polymers; Caspase-Independent Cell Death
22.  Annonaceous acetogenin mimic AA005 induces cancer cell death via apoptosis inducing factor through a caspase-3-independent mechanism 
BMC Cancer  2015;15:139.
Annonaceous acetogenins are a family of natural products with antitumor activities. Annonaceous acetogenin mimic AA005 reportedly inhibits mammalian mitochondrial NADH-ubiquinone reductase (Complex I) and induces gastric cancer cell death. However, the mechanisms underlying its cell-death-inducing activity are unclear.
We used SW620 colorectal adenocarcinoma cells to study AA005 cytotoxic activity. Cell deaths were determined by Trypan blue assay and flow cytometry, and related proteins were characterized by western blot. Immunofluorescence and subcellular fractionation were used to evaluate AIF nuclear translocation. Reactive oxygen species were assessed by using redox-sensitive dye DCFDA.
AA005 induces a unique type of cell death in colorectal adenocarcinoma cells, characterized by lack of caspase-3 activation or apoptotic body formation, sensitivity to poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitor Olaparib (AZD2281) but not pan-caspase inhibitor Z-VAD.fmk, and dependence on apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF). AA005 treatment also reduced expression of mitochondrial Complex I components, and leads to accumulation of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) at the early stage. Blocking ROS formation significantly suppresses AA005-induced cell death in SW620 cells. Moreover, blocking activation of RIP-1 by necroptosis inhibitor necrotatin-1 inhibits AIF translocation and partially suppresses AA005-induced cell death in SW620 cells demonstrating that RIP-1 protein may be essential for cell death.
AA005 may trigger the cell death via mediated by AIF through caspase-3 independent pathway. Our work provided new mechanisms for AA005-induced cancer cell death and novel clues for cancer treatment via AIF dependent cell death.
PMCID: PMC4379763  PMID: 25885900
Annonaceous acetogenins; Cancer; AIF; ROS; RIP-1
23.  Heat Shock Protein 70 Prevents Hyperoxia-Induced Disruption of Lung Endothelial Barrier via Caspase-Dependent and AIF-Dependent Pathways 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0129343.
Exposure of pulmonary artery endothelial cells (PAECs) to hyperoxia results in a compromise in endothelial monolayer integrity, an increase in caspase-3 activity, and nuclear translocation of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF), a marker of caspase-independent apoptosis. In an endeavor to identify proteins involved in hyperoxic endothelial injury, we found that the protein expression of heat-shock protein 70 (Hsp70) was increased in hyperoxic PAECs. The hyperoxia-induced Hsp70 protein expression is from hspA1B gene. Neither inhibition nor overexpression of Hsp70 affected the first phase barrier disruption of endothelial monolayer. Nevertheless, inhibition of Hsp70 by using the Hsp70 inhibitor KNK437 or knock down Hsp70 using siRNA exaggerated and overexpression of Hsp70 prevented the second phase disruption of lung endothelial integrity. Moreover, inhibition of Hsp70 exacerbated and overexpression of Hsp70 prevented hyperoxia-induced apoptosis, caspase-3 activation, and increase in nuclear AIF protein level in PAECs. Furthermore, we found that Hsp70 interacted with AIF in the cytosol in hyperoxic PAECs. Inhibition of Hsp70/AIF association by KNK437 correlated with increased nuclear AIF level and apoptosis in KNK437-treated PAECs. Finally, the ROS scavenger NAC prevented the hyperoxia-induced increase in Hsp70 expression and reduced the interaction of Hsp70 with AIF in hyperoxic PAECs. Together, these data indicate that increased expression of Hsp70 plays a protective role against hyperoxia-induced lung endothelial barrier disruption through caspase-dependent and AIF-dependent apoptotic pathways. Association of Hsp70 with AIF prevents AIF nuclear translocation, contributing to the protective effect of Hsp70 on hyperoxia-induced endothelial apoptosis. The hyperoxia-induced increase in Hsp70 expression and Hsp70/AIF interaction is contributed to ROS formation.
PMCID: PMC4465980  PMID: 26066050
24.  Role of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) in programmed nuclear death during conjugation in Tetrahymena thermophila 
BMC Cell Biology  2010;11:13.
Programmed nuclear death (PND), which is also referred to as nuclear apoptosis, is a remarkable process that occurs in ciliates during sexual reproduction (conjugation). In Tetrahymena thermophila, when the new macronucleus differentiates, the parental macronucleus is selectively eliminated from the cytoplasm of the progeny, concomitant with apoptotic nuclear events. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these events are not well understood. The parental macronucleus is engulfed by a large autophagosome, which contains numerous mitochondria that have lost their membrane potential. In animals, mitochondrial depolarization precedes apoptotic cell death, which involves DNA fragmentation and subsequent nuclear degradation.
We focused on the role of mitochondrial apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) during PND in Tetrahymena. The disruption of AIF delays the normal progression of PND, specifically, nuclear condensation and kilobase-size DNA fragmentation. AIF is localized in Tetrahymena mitochondria and is released into the macronucleus prior to nuclear condensation. In addition, AIF associates and co-operates with the mitochondrial DNase to facilitate the degradation of kilobase-size DNA, which is followed by oligonucleosome-size DNA laddering.
Our results suggest that Tetrahymena AIF plays an important role in the degradation of DNA at an early stage of PND, which supports the notion that the mitochondrion-initiated apoptotic DNA degradation pathway is widely conserved among eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2829475  PMID: 20146827
25.  Calcium Dysregulation Induces Apoptosis-inducing Factor Release: Cross-talk Between PARP-1- and Calpain- Signaling Pathways 
Experimental neurology  2009;218(2):213-220.
Recent discoveries show that caspase-independent cell death pathways are a pervasive mechanism in neurodegenerative diseases, and apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) is an important effector of this mode of neuronal death. There are currently two known mechanisms underlying AIF release following excitotoxic stress, PARP-1 and calpain. To test whether there is an interaction between PARP-1 and calpain in triggering AIF release, we used the NMDA toxicity model in rat primary cortical neurons. Exposure to NMDA resulted in AIF truncation and nuclear translocation, and shRNA-mediated knock down of AIF resulted in neuroprotection. Both calpain and PARP-1 are involved with AIF processing as AIF truncation, nuclear translocation and neuronal death were attenuated by calpain inhibition using adeno-associated virus-mediated overexpression of the endogenous calpain inhibitor, calpastatin, or treatment with the PARP-1 inhibitor 3-ABA. Activation of PARP-1 is necessary for calpain activation as PARP-1 inhibition blocked mitochondrial calpain activation. Finally, NMDA toxicity induces mitochondrial Ca2+ dysregulation in a PARP-1 dependent manner. Thus, PARP-1 and mitochondrial calpain activation are linked via PARP-1-induced alterations in mitochondrial Ca2+ homeostasis. Collectively, these findings link the two seemingly independent mechanisms triggering AIF-induced neuronal death.
PMCID: PMC2710414  PMID: 19427306
NMDA toxicity; calpain; PARP-1; apoptosis-inducing factor; ischemia; mitochondria; calcium homeostasis

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