Changes in integrity and association of eukaryotic protein synthesis initiation factors during apoptosis


M. J. Clemens, Department of Biochemistry and Immunology, Cellular and Molecular Sciences Group, St George's Hospital Medical School, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, UK. Fax: +44 0208 725 2992, Tel.: +44 0208 725 5770, E-mail:


Induction of apoptosis results in inhibition of the rate of overall protein synthesis in a variety of cell types. We have shown previously that polypeptide chain initiation factor eIF4GI is rapidly cleaved by caspase-3, whereas other components of the eIF4F complex are much more stable during apoptosis in BJAB and Jurkat cells. We have now extended our analysis to other factors involved in the initiation of protein synthesis and we report here that eIF4B, the p35 subunit of eIF3, and minor proportions of the α subunit of eIF2 and the eIF4E-binding protein 4E-BP1 are also cleaved to give rise to discrete fragments. These cleavages occur with delayed kinetics relative to that seen for eIF4GI, and eIF2β and eIF2γ levels also decrease at a relatively late stage of apoptosis. In contrast, the second form of eIF4G described recently, eIF4GII, is cleaved as rapidly as eIF4GI under the same conditions. Purified recombinant caspase-3 is able to degrade eIF4B and eIF3(p35) in vitro, producing fragments of the same sizes as those seen in intact cells. Induction of apoptosis also results in a biphasic change in the association of 4E-BP1 with eIF4E. Thus the progress of apoptosis is characterized by a complex programme of changes in several initiation factors, including the specific fragmentation or complete degradation of some and alterations in the association status of others. These events are likely to contribute to the inhibition of protein synthesis seen under these conditions.