Background & aims: Survivin is an inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP), which also is crucial for mitosis and cell cycle progression. IAPs participate in regulating Fas ligand-induced hepatic apoptosis. The aim was to study the contribution of survivin to hepatic apoptosis by generating transgenic mice lacking survivin.
Methods: The survivin gene was inactivated in mice by homologous recombination in embryonic stem cells. Survivin+/- and survivin+/+ mice were generated and injected with the Fas agonistic antibody Jo2.
Results: In 3 genetic backgrounds, survivin-/- embryos died before 4.5 days post coitum. Survivin+/- mice appeared normal, but liver lysates revealed baseline low-level activation of procaspase-8, Bid, procaspase-9, and procaspase-3, with accumulation of Bax, and release of cytochrome c, indicating a proapoptotic state. Intraperitoneal injection of low-dose Jo2 had no effect on survivin+/+ mice at 2 hours. However, in survivin+/- mice, Jo2 caused hemorrhagic necrosis of the liver, associated with prominent activation of the apoptotic pathway via the mitochondria, and up-regulation of hepatocellular expression of survivin in the cytosol, nuclei, and mitochondria. Isolated mitochondria from survivin+/- livers had more defects in oxidative phosphorylation after C(2)-ceramide exposure.
Conclusions: Absence of survivin is incompatible with life. Although Jo2 induces expression of survivin, diminished baseline levels render the liver more sensitive to Fas, possibly due to functional effects on the mitochondria. This is the first in vivo documentation that survivin modulates caspase activation and that Fas-mediated hepatic apoptosis is regulated by survivin via mitochondrial pathways.