The Bcl-2 oncoprotein, which is expressed in a variety of human malignancies, blocks apoptosis induced by chemotherapeutic drugs, including the topoisomerase II inhibitor, etoposide. To determine the significance of Bcl-2 in etoposide-induced death of human epithelial tumor cells, HeLa S3 cells were transfected with human bcl-2 cDNA in the pSFFV expression vector, and stable Bcl-2-expressing clones established. In agreement with previous studies, Bcl-2 inhibited loss of cell viability (by trypan blue exclusion), the appearance of morphologically apoptotic cells, and the amount of low molecular weight DNA extracted after etoposide exposure (25 µm, 4 h). The degree of inhibition, compared to wild-type and vector control-transfected clones, differed according to the level of Bcl-2 protein expressed in the two clones studied. However, when cell survival was assessed by colony-forming assays, no significant differences were detected at any of the etoposide concentrations used. Although Bcl-2 inhibited etoposide-induced apoptosis, it had no effect on the formation of giant, multinucleated cells characteristic of mitotic catastrophe. Consequently, the ability of Bcl-2 to prevent apoptosis caused by chemotherapeutic drugs may not necessarily translate into increased survival of cells that express Bcl-2.


This work was supported by USPHS Grant CA53184 from the NIH, and by the Henry Vogt Cancer Research Institute.

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