An important biochemical hallmark of apoptosis is the cleavage of chromatin into oligonucleosomal fragments. Here, we purified a Mg2+-dependent endonuclease from etoposide-treated HL-60 cells undergoing apoptosis. High levels of Mg2+-dependent endonuclease activity were detected in etoposide-treated HL-60 cells, and this activity increased in a time-dependent manner following etoposide treatment. Such an activity could not be detected in untreated cells or in cells treated with etoposide in the presence of the caspase inhibitor benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-(OMe)-fluoromethyl ketone (zVAD-fmk) or the serine protease inhibitor tosyl-l-phenylalanine chloromethyl ketone (TPCK). This Mg2+-dependent endonuclease was purified by a series of chromatographic procedures. The enzyme preparation showed a single major protein band with Mr 34,000, determined by SDS-PAGE. The presence of the Mr 34,000 Mg2+-dependent endonuclease was also confirmed by activity gel analysis. The enzyme required only Mg2+ for full activity. pH optimum was in the range of 6.5–7.5. This enzyme introduced single- and double-strand breaks into SV40 DNA and produced internucleosomal DNA cleavage in isolated nuclei from untreated cells. The DNA breaks were terminated with 3′-OH, consistent with characteristic products of apoptotic chromatin fragmentation. We propose to designate this Mr 34,000 Mg2+-dependent endonuclease AN34 (apoptotic nuclease Mr 34,000).

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