APAF1 is a key transcriptional target for p53 in the regulation of neuronal cell death

Andre Fortin, Sean P. Cregan, Jason G. MacLaurin, Neena Kushwaha, Emma S. Hickman, Charlie S. Thompson, Antoine Hakim, Paul R. Albert, Francesco Cecconi, Kristian Helin, David S. Park, Ruth S. Slack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


p53 is a transcriptional activator which has been implicated as a key regulator of neuronal cell death after acute injury. We have shown previously that p53-mediated neuronal cell death involves a Bax-dependent activation of caspase 3; however, the transcriptional targets involved in the regulation of this process have not been identified. In the present study, we demonstrate that p53 directly upregulates Apaf1 transcription as a critical step in the induction of neuronal cell death. Using DNA microarray analysis of total RNA isolated from neurons undergoing p53-induced apoptosis a 5-6-fold upregulation of Apaf1 mRNA was detected. Induction of neuronal cell death by camptothecin, a DNA-damaging agent that functions through a p53-dependent mechanism, resulted in increased Apaf1 mRNA in p53-positive, but not p53-deficient neurons. In both in vitro and in vivo neuronal cell death processes of p53-induced cell death, Apaf1 protein levels were increased. We addressed whether p53 directly regulates Apaf1 transcription via the two p53 consensus binding sites in the Apaf1 promoter. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays demonstrated p53-DNA binding activity at both p53 consensus binding sequences in extracts obtained from neurons undergoing p53-induced cell death, but not in healthy control cultures or when p53 or the p53 binding sites were inactivated by mutation. In transient transfections in a neuronal cell line with p53 and Apaf1 promoter-luciferase constructs, p53 directly activated the Apaf1 promoter via both p53 sites. The importance of Apaf1 as a p53 target gene in neuronal cell death was evaluated by examining p53-induced apoptotic pathways in primary cultures of Apaf1-deficient neurons. Neurons treated with camptothecin were significantly protected in the absence of Apaf1 relative to those derived from wild-type littermates. Together, these results demonstrate that Apaf1 is a key transcriptional target for p53 that plays a pivotal role in the regulation of apoptosis after neuronal injury.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-216
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 15 2001


  • Apoptosis
  • Bax
  • Caspase 3
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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