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Keywords:

  • Early-stage apoptosis;
  • Ataxia telangiectasia mutated;
  • DNA damage;
  • Staurosporine;
  • NIH3T3;
  • Tumor necrosis factor-alpha, H2A.X;
  • Comet assay

Abstract

Chromatin condensation and degradation of DNA into internucleosomal DNA fragments are key hallmarks of apoptosis. The phosphorylation of protein kinase ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) and histone H2A.X was recently shown to occur concurrently with apoptotic DNA fragmentation. We have used immunofluorescence microscopy, Western blot analysis and alkali comet assays to show that phosphorylation of ATM in NIH3T3 fibroblasts occurs prior to apoptotic DNA fragmentation, nuclease degradation and phosphorylation of histone H2A.X in cells treated with low levels of either staurosporine (STS) or tumor necrosis factor-α mixed with cycloheximide (TNF-α/CHX). In extension to previous findings, ATM phosphorylation was associated with chromatin decondensation, i.e., by loss of dense foci of constitutive heterochromatin. These results suggest that chromatin is decondensed and that ATM is activated independently of DNA damage signaling pathways during the very early stages of apoptosis.