Chromatin condensation and oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation are the nuclear hallmarks of apoptosis. A proteolytic fragment of the apoptotic chromatin condensation inducer in the nucleus (Acinus), which is generated by caspase cleavage, has been implicated in mediating apoptotic chromatin condensation prior to DNA fragmentation. Acinus is also involved in mRNA splicing and a component of the apoptosis and splicing-associated protein (ASAP) complex. To study the role of Acinus for apoptotic nuclear alterations, we generated stable cell lines in which Acinus isoforms were knocked down by inducible and reversible RNA interference. We show that Acinus is not required for nuclear localization and interaction of the other ASAP subunits SAP18 and RNPS1; however, knockdown of Acinus leads to a reduction in cell growth. Most strikingly, down-regulation of Acinus did not inhibit apoptotic chromatin condensation either in intact cells or in a cell-free system. In contrast, although apoptosis proceeds rapidly, analysis of nuclear DNA from apoptotic Acinus knockdown cells shows inhibition of oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation. Our results therefore suggest that Acinus is not involved in DNA condensation but rather point to a contribution of Acinus in internucleosomal DNA cleavage during programmed cell death.
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