The nuclear γ-H2AX apoptotic ring: implications for cancers and autoimmune diseases

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2014 Jun;71(12):2289-97. doi: 10.1007/s00018-013-1555-2. Epub 2014 Jan 22.


Apoptosis is a fundamental process for metazoan development. It is also relevant to the pathophysiology of immune diseases and cancers and to the outcome of cancer chemotherapies, as well as being a target for cancer therapies. Apoptosis involves intrinsic pathways typically initiated by DNA damaging agents and engaging mitochondria, and extrinsic pathways typically initiated by "death receptors" and their ligands TRAIL and TNF at the cell surface. Recently, we discovered the apoptotic ring, which microscopically looks like a nuclear annular staining early in apoptosis. This ring is, in three-dimensional space, a thick intranuclear shell consisting of epigenetic modifications including histone H2AX and DNA damage response (DDR) proteins. It excludes the DNA repair factors usually associated with γ-H2AX in the DDR nuclear foci. Here, we summarize our knowledge of the apoptotic ring, and discuss its biological and pathophysiological relevance, as well as its value as a potential pharmacodynamic biomarker for anticancer therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / diagnosis
  • Autoimmune Diseases / metabolism*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Biomarkers
  • H2AX protein, human
  • Histones