Acidic environment causes apoptosis by increasing caspase activity

Br J Cancer. 1999 Aug;80(12):1892-7. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6690617.


An exposure of HL-60 human promyelocytic leukaemia cells to acidic media with pH 6.2-6.6 caused an up-regulation of Bax protein expression within 2 h, which lasted for longer than 6 h. On the other hand, the apoptosis, as judged from PARP cleavage, DNA fragmentation and flow cytometric determination of cell population with sub-G1 DNA content, occurred after the cells were incubated in the acidic media for longer than 4 h. The PARP cleavage and DNA fragmentation in the cells exposed to an acidic environment could be effectively suppressed by inhibitors specific for ICE or CPP32, indicating that activation of these caspases is an essential step in acidic stress-induced apoptosis. It has been known that Bax is involved in the activation of caspases. Taken together, it appears that acidic stress first up-regulates Bax protein thereby activating caspases followed by PARP cleavage and DNA fragmentation. The observation that inhibition of either ICE or CPP32 could suppress acidic stress-induced apoptosis suggested that ICE activates pro-CPP32, which then cleaves PARP. Flow cytometric analysis indicated that acidic stress-induced apoptosis occurs mainly in G1 cells. The finding in the present study demonstrated that acidic intra-tumour environment may markedly perturb the tumour cell proliferation and tumour growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase 1 / metabolism
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Culture Media
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • Enzyme Precursors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • HL-60 Cells / cytology*
  • HL-60 Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration*
  • Kinetics
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • BAX protein, human
  • Culture Media
  • Enzyme Precursors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases
  • Caspase 1