Activation of mitochondria and release of mitochondrial apoptogenic factors by betulinic acid

Simone Fulda, Garsten Scaffidi, Santos A. Susin, Peter H. Krammer, Guido Kroemer, Marcus E. Peter, Klaus Michael Debatin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

339 Scopus citations


Different classes of anticancer drugs may trigger apoptosis by acting on different subcellular targets and by activating distinct signaling pathways. Here, we report that betulinic acid (BetA) is a prototype cytotoxic agent that triggers apoptosis by a direct effect on mitochondria. In isolated mitochondria, BetA directly induces loss of transmembrane potential independent of a benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-fluoromethyl ketone- inhibitable caspase. This is inhibited by bongkrekic acid, an agent that stabilizes the permeability transition pore complex. Mitochondria undergoing BetA-induced permeability transition mediate cleavage of caspase-8 (FLICE/MACH/Mch5) and caspase-3 (CPP32/Yama) in a cell-free system. Soluble factors such as cytochrome c or apoptosis-inducing factor released from BetA- treated mitochondria are sufficient for cleavage of caspases and nuclear fragmentation. Addition of cytochrome c to cytosolic extracts results in cleavage of caspase-3, but not of caspase-8. However, supernatants of mitochondria, which have undergone permeability transition, and partially purified apoptosis-inducing factor activate both caspase-8 and caspase-3 in cytosolic extracts and suffice to activate recombinant caspase-8. These findings show that induction of mitochondrial permeability transition alone is sufficient to trigger the full apoptosis program and that some cytotoxic drugs such as Beta may induce apoptosis via a direct effect on mitochondria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33942-33948
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 18 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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