Calcium-activated DNA fragmentation kills immature thymocytes

D. J. McConkey, P. Hartzell, P. Nicotera, S. Orrenius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

474 Scopus citations


Glucocorticoid hormones kill immature thymocytes by activating a self-destructive process that involves extensive DNA fragmentation. It has been demonstrated that thymocyte suicide is dependent on an early, sustained increase in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration, and new protein synthesis, but the biochemical lesion that leads to cell death has not been established. To determine whether endonuclease activation or activation of another Ca2+-dependent process could mediate cell killing, we treated thymocytes with the glucocorticoid methylprednisolone in the presence of inhibitors of various Ca2+-dependent degradative enzymes. The role of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, an enzyme known to be activated by DNA damage, was also assessed. Glucocorticoid-induced chromatin cleavage and cell killing were blocked by the endonuclease inhibitor aurintricarboxylic acid, whereas inhibitors of other Ca2+-dependent degradative processes or of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase did not abrogate cell death. In addition, stimulation of thymocyte DNA fragmentation by the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 resulted in cell killing that could be blocked by the endonuclease inhibitor. Together, our results suggest that thymocyte suicide is caused by extensive Ca2+-stimulated DNA fragmentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1843-1849
Number of pages7
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Calcium-activated DNA fragmentation kills immature thymocytes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this