Aspirin induces apoptosis through release of cytochrome c from mitochondria

Neoplasia. Nov-Dec 2000;2(6):505-13. doi: 10.1038/sj.neo.7900120.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) reduce the risk for cancer, due to their antiproliferative and apoptosis-inducing effects. A critical pathway for apoptosis involves the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria, which then interacts with Apaf-1 to activate caspase proteases that orchestrate cell death. In this study we found that treatment of a human cancer cell line with aspirin induced caspase activation and the apoptotic cell morphology, which was blocked by the caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk. Further analysis of the mechanism underlying this apoptotic event showed that aspirin induces translocation of Bax to the mitochondria and mitochondrial release of cytochrome into the cytosol. The release of cytochrome c from mitochondria was inhibited by overexpression of the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2 and cells that lack Apaf-1 were resistant to aspirin-induced apoptosis. These data provide evidence that the release of cytochrome c is an important part of the apoptotic mechanism of aspirin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Chloromethyl Ketones / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptotic Protease-Activating Factor 1
  • Aspirin / pharmacology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Cytochrome c Group / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / enzymology
  • Protein Transport
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • APAF1 protein, human
  • Amino Acid Chloromethyl Ketones
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Apoptotic Protease-Activating Factor 1
  • BAX protein, human
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • Cytochrome c Group
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • benzyloxycarbonylvalyl-alanyl-aspartyl fluoromethyl ketone
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Caspases
  • Aspirin