A novel anticancer drug, cytotrienin A, isolated from Streptomyces sp., induces apoptosis (or programmed cell death) in human promyelocytic leukemia HL-60 cells within 4 h. To elucidate the mechanism of this process, we performed an in-gel kinase assay using myelin basic protein (MBP) as a substrate and found the activation of kinase with an apparent molecular mass of 36 kDa (p36 MBP kinase). The dose of cytotrienin A required to activate p36 MBP kinase was consistent with that required to induce apoptotic DNA fragmentation in HL-60 cells. This p36 MBP kinase was activated with kinetics distinct from the activation of JNK (c-Jun N-terminal kinase)/stress-activated protein kinase and p38 MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase). Importantly, the p36 MBP kinase was immunologically different from MAPK superfamily molecules such as ERK1, JNK isoforms, and p38 MAPK. In addition, the p36 MBP kinase activation and apoptotic DNA fragmentation were inhibited by antioxidants such as N-acetylcysteine and reduced-form glutathione. The p36 MBP kinase activation was also observed during hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and okadaic acid-induced apoptosis. Although a specific inhibitor of caspase-3-like proteases (Ac-DEVD-CHO) or a specific inhibitor of caspase-1-like proteases (Ac-YVAD-CHO) did not block the cytotrienin A-, H2O2-, or okadaic acid-induced apoptosis, a broad specificity inhibitor of caspases (Z-Asp-CH2-DCB) strongly inhibited the apoptosis of HL-60 cells. Surprisingly, Z-Asp-CH2-DCB inhibited the activation of p36 MBP kinase induced by cytotrienin A or H2O2, but did not inhibit the activation of JNK/stress-activated protein kinase and p38 MAPK. Taken together, these results indicate that p36 MBP kinase activation is downstream of the activation of Z-Asp-CH2-DCB-sensitive caspases, and reactive oxygen species could be included in the apoptotic events. Moreover, according to the Western blotting using the antibodies against MST1/Krs2 or MST2/Krs1, it is suggested that the p36 MBP kinase is an active proteolytic product of MST1/Krs2 and MST2/Krs1, which are originally cloned by virtue of its homology to the budding yeast Ste20 kinase. Thus, the p36 MBP kinase might be a common component of the diverse signaling pathways leading to apoptosis, and controlling this p36 MBP kinase pathway might be a novel strategy for cancer chemotherapy.

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Supported in part by a grant for Multibioprobes (RIKEN) and a grant from the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture, Japan.

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