Involvement of ornithine decarboxylase and polyamines in glucocorticoid- induced apoptosis of rat thymocytes

M. A. Desiderio, E. Grassilli, E. Bellesia, P. Salomoni, C. Franceschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), the first and rate-limiting enzyme of polyamine metabolism, has been shown to be required for entry into and progression through the cell cycle. However, the role of ODC and polyamines in apoptosis remains to be determined. We have examined ODC expression and polyamine levels in thymocytes activated to undergo apoptosis by dexamethasone treatment. We have demonstrated a rapid and reversible induction of ODC (mRNA and activity), as previously reported for the mRNA expression of other 'early' genes, c-fos, c-jun, and c-myc, in the same experimental model. Surprisingly, polyamine levels diminished progressively starting at 2-4 h after dexamethasone treatment, and spermine was depleted at 8-12 h. This seemed to be relevant since increasing the intracellular polyamine levels by exogenous spermine administration prevented the DNA 'laddering' (2-4 h) and the DNA loss from the nucleus (8-18 h) due to dexamethasone treatment. Moreover, the activities of spermidine/spermine N1- acetyltransferase, which controls the cytosolic polyamine interconversion pathway, and of spermidine N8-acetyltransferase, which regulates the nuclear pool and functions of polyamines, were measured in apoptotic cells. Spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase activity progressively increased and might be responsible for spermidine and spermine excretion as acetyl derivatives. In contrast, spermidine N8-acetyltransferase activity remained unchanged. A completely different scenario was observed in proliferating concanavalin A-treated thymocytes, studied for comparison. In this case, polyamine levels increased, remaining at high values until 12 h. This is likely a consequence of the rapid and prolonged induction of ODC (mRNA and activity), accompanied by that of spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase (mRNA and activity). Spermidine N8-acetyltransferase activity peaked biphasically, indicating its possible involvement in the enhanced gene expression necessary for cell proliferation. Thus, the decrease in intracellular polyamine levels may represent a signal to thymocytes for progression into the apoptotic program.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-513
Number of pages9
JournalCell Growth and Differentiation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology

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