Resistance of mitochondrial DNA to degradation characterizes the apoptotic but not the necrotic mode of human leukemia cell death

Clifford G. Tepper, George P. Studzinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Scopus citations


Cell death can occur by two basically different processes. The original term, necrosis, is now reserved for the generally destructive series of events which include the release of lysosomal enzymes and loss of cell membrane integrity. In contrast, mild treatment with cell damaging agents, or withdrawal of growth factors, may result in a characteristic form of degradation of cellular DNA which is associated with cell death that has morphology known as apoptosis. In this study human leukemia cells were exposed to agents or conditions previously reported to cause necrosis or apoptosis, monitored by detection of DNA “ladders,” and the integrity of cellular DNA was determined on Southern blots. Nuclear DNA was distinguished from mitochondrial DNA by use of probes specific for nuclear genes or for mitochondrial DNA. When HL60, K562, MOLT4, or U937 cells were exposed to conditions which resulted in necrosis, mitochondrial DNA was damaged at approximately the same rate as nuclear DNA, but in apoptosis mtDNA was not degraded. Thus, the ratio of the relative (to untreated cells) abundance of mitochondrial DNA measured by a probe for 16S mitochondrial ribosomal RNA on Southern blots, to the relative abundance of DNA of any nuclear gene, was 1 or less in necrosis, but rose to values greater than 2 in apoptosis. It is concluded that the comparison of the degree of fragmentation of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA provides a quantitative way of distinguishing necrosis from apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-361
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cellular Biochemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1993


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


  • apoptosis
  • cell death
  • cell membrane integrity
  • lysosomal enzymes
  • necrosis

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