Multiple Pathways for Apoptotic Nuclear Fragmentation

Exp Cell Res. 1996 Mar 15;223(2):340-7. doi: 10.1006/excr.1996.0089.


We analyzed the ultrastructure of apoptotic nuclear fragmentation in U937 cells treated with many different apoptogenic agents. We found that this characteristic apoptotic feature can be achieved through multiple alternative pathways, depending on the apoptogenic inducer, leading to slightly different final nuclear morphologies. In most instances, the irregularly shaped nucleus of U937 rounds up; then, chromatin condenses at the nuclear periphery. Condensed chromatin can form protruding patches, which eventually bud from the nucleus in sealed vesicles through a process which is actin-dependent, since it could be blocked by cytochalasins. Alternatively, chromatin condenses in tiny, nonprotruding crescents, and a cleavage in the nuclear sap forms, beginning from the inner nuclear membrane and growing inward, thus splitting the nucleus. In U937 induced to apoptosis by hydrogen peroxide in the presence of ADP-ribosylation inhibitors, the nuclei fragment in many vesicles before chromatin even begins to condense: chromatin condensation probably occurs as a consequence. While all the apoptotic morphologies described above evolve from interphase cells, a peculiar apoptotic morphology, possibly deriving from mitotic cells, is detected upon oxidative stress, recalling the formation of micronuclei by clastogenic treatments; it shows partially membrane-bound chromatin patches, which look midway between condensed chromosomes and apoptotic condensed chromatin. The existence of these multiple pathways for nuclear fragmentation may indicate an evolutionary convergence, suggesting that this event may play an important physiological role in apoptosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cell Nucleus / ultrastructure*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / pharmacology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mitosis
  • Monocytes
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology


  • Chromatin
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose
  • DNA
  • Hydrogen Peroxide