Cells en route to apoptosis are characterized by the upregulation of c-fos, c-myc, c-jun, cdc2, and RB phosphorylation, resembling events of early cell-cycle traverse.
Density-arrested quiescent murine Balb/c-3T3 cells are dependent upon growth factors for their survival. Withdrawal of serum from their medium induces rapid cell death, the mechanism of which is not yet fully understood. We have studied the effect of serum deprivation on density-inhibited quiescent Swiss 3T3 cells and found that they undergo rapid cell death upon total withdrawal of serum. The nature of this cell death is similar to apoptosis, as shown by cellular and nuclear morphology and DNA fragmentation into oligonucleosomal fragments. Investigating the regulation of early cell-cycle genes during this process, we found that c-myc, c-jun, c-fos, and cdc2 protein presence is induced after serum deprivation, when the phosphorylated form of the RB protein also appears. The upregulation of these genes' protein products is coupled with the appearance of PCNA, a proliferation-specific nuclear antigen, as well as significant incorporation of BrdU, which may reflect DNA repair activity; in situ analysis shows that BrdU-positive cells are also positive for DNA fragmentation. These results suggest that en route to apoptosis, cells undergo events typical of early cell-cycle traverse by expressing early G1 genes and may even experience the late G1/S phase boundary, as shown by the presence of PCNA. However, the demonstrated ability of these cells to traverse the G1 phase of the cell cycle seems to be an abortive event, since they die shortly afterwards.
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