Initial apoptosis research characterized this form of cell death based on distinct nuclear morphology that was subsequently shown to be associated with the appearance of oligonucleosomal DNA fragments. More recent evidence has indicated that apoptosis depends upon a tightly regulated cellular program for its successful initiation and execution. Molecular participants in this program are present in different subcellular compartments, including the plasma membrane, cytosol, mitochondria, and nucleus. The interplay among these compartments and the exchange of specific signaling molecules are critical for the systematic progression of apoptosis. While numerous reports have described a key role for caspase activity in the signaling and executive steps of apoptotic cell death, there are some instances where well-established nuclear changes, characteristic of this form of cell death, can occur independently of caspase activity. Moreover, evidence indicates that certain nuclear events, including chromatin condensation and DNA fragmentation, are controlled separately and depend upon a persistent supply of energy in vivo. In this review, we discuss our current understanding of the role and regulation of nuclear events in the apoptotic process with an emphasis on protease and endonuclease activities as well as the ability of certain Bcl-2 family proteins to influence this process.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.