Degradation of nuclear DNA into nucleosomal units is one of the hallmarks of apoptotic cell death. It occurs in response to various apoptotic stimuli in a wide variety of cell types. Molecular characterization of this process identified a specific DNase (CAD, caspase-activated DNase) that cleaves chromosomal DNA in a caspase-dependent manner. CAD is synthesized with the help of ICAD (inhibitor of CAD), which works as a specific chaperone for CAD and is found complexed with ICAD in proliferating cells. When cells are induced to undergo apoptosis, caspases-in particular caspase 3-cleave ICAD to dissociate the CAD:ICAD complex, allowing CAD to cleave chromosomal DNA. Cells that lack ICAD or that express caspase-resistant mutant ICAD thus do not show DNA fragmentation during apoptosis, although they do exhibit some other features of apoptosis and die. In this review, the molecular mechanism of and the physiological roles played by apoptotic DNA fragmentation will be discussed.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.