Cell survival following direct executioner-caspase activation

TitleCell survival following direct executioner-caspase activation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsNano M, Mondo JA, Harwood J, Balasanyan V, Montell DJ
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Executioner-caspase activation has been considered a point-of-no-return in apoptosis. However, numerous studies report survival from caspase activation after treatment with drugs or radiation. An open question is whether cells can recover from direct caspase activation without pro-survival stress responses induced by drugs. To address this question, we engineered a HeLa cell line to express caspase-3 inducibly and combined it with a quantitative caspase activity reporter. While high caspase activity levels killed all cells and very low levels allowed all cells to live, doses of caspase activity sufficient to kill 15 to 30% of cells nevertheless allowed 70 to 85% to survive. At these doses, neither the rate, nor the peak level, nor the total amount of caspase activity could accurately predict cell death versus survival. Thus, cells can survive direct executioner-caspase activation, and variations in cellular state modify the outcome of potentially lethal caspase activity. Such heterogeneities may underlie incomplete tumor cell killing in response to apoptosis-inducing cancer treatments.