Regulation of DNA fragmentation: the role of caspases and phosphorylation

FEBS J. 2011 Feb;278(3):427-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2010.07975.x. Epub 2010 Dec 23.


DNA fragmentation is a hallmark of apoptosis that is induced by apoptotic stimuli in various cell types. Apoptotic signal pathways, which eventually cause DNA fragmentation, are largely mediated by the family of cysteinyl aspartate-specific protease caspases. Caspases mediate apoptotic signal transduction by cleavage of apoptosis-implicated proteins and the caspases themselves. In the process of caspase activation, reversible protein phosphorylation plays an important role. The activation of various proteins is regulated by phosphorylation and dephosphorylation, both upstream and downstream of caspase activation. Many kinases/phosphatases are involved in the control of cell survival and death, including the mitogen-activated protein kinase signal transduction pathways. Reversible protein phosphorylation is involved in the widespread regulation of cellular signal transduction and apoptotic processes. Therefore, phosphatase/kinase inhibitors are commonly used as apoptosis inducers/inhibitors. Whether protein phosphorylation induces apoptosis depends on many factors, such as the type of phosphorylated protein, the degree of activation and the influence of other proteins. Phosphorylation signaling pathways are intricately interrelated; it was previously shown that either induction or inhibition of phosphorylation causes cell death. Determination of the relationship between protein and phosphorylation helps to reveal how apoptosis is regulated. Here we discuss DNA fragmentation and protein phosphorylation, focusing on caspase and serine/threonine protein phosphatase activation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • DNA Fragmentation*
  • Humans
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Phosphorylation
  • Signal Transduction


  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Caspases