Cytochrome c deficiency causes embryonic lethality and attenuates stress-induced apoptosis.
Cytochrome c released from mitochondria has been proposed to be an essential component of an apoptotic pathway responsive to DNA damage and other forms of cell stress. Murine embryos devoid of cytochrome c die in utero by midgestation, but cell lines established from early cytochrome c null embryos are viable under conditions that compensate for defective oxidative phosphorylation. As compared to cell lines established from wild-type embryos, cells lacking cytochrome c show reduced caspase-3 activation and are resistant to the proapoptotic effects of UV irradiation, serum withdrawal, or staurosporine. In contrast, cells lacking cytochrome c demonstrate increased sensitivity to cell death signals triggered by TNFalpha. These results define the role of cytochrome c in different apoptotic signaling cascades.