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Abstract

Dysregulated expression of CD44 isoforms occurs consistently in colon carcinogenesis, and this change occurs also in most other types of cancer. One of the basic features of malignant transformation is the acquisition of resistance to apoptosis. We previously found that the colonic epithelium of mice, deficient in CD44 is predisposed to apoptosis. In this study, we asked whether the expression of CD44 alters the response of the colon to an apoptotic stimulus, and what are the mechanisms involved. For this, we assessed the susceptibility of the murine colon to apoptosis by total body irradiation to induce apoptosis. Apoptotic and concomitant changes relevant to the mechanisms of apoptosis were monitored by molecular markers of apoptosis. We found enhanced susceptibility to apoptosis in CD44 deficient colonic epithelium based on an increase in the number of apoptotic bodies, and activation of caspase 3. This was not associated with alterations in proliferations as shown by comparable Ki-67 expression and BrdU labeling. Furthermore, upregulated active caspase 3 in CD44 deficient colon was accompanied by concomitant molecular alterations in caspase 9 and not caspase 8, and this indicated the involvement of the mitochondrial pathway in apoptosis execution. Overall, this is the first report demonstrating CD44 mediated resistance to apoptosis in the colonic epithelium in vivo. This implicates CD44 in promoting cell transformation into a malignant phenotype, in conjunction with other anti-apoptotic factors. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.