Cells in culture die by apoptosis when deprived of the essential nutrient choline. We now report that cells (both proliferating PC12 cells and postmitotic neurons isolated from fetal rat brains) undergo apoptosis when deprived of other individual essential nutrients (methionine, tryptophan or isoleucine). In PC12 cells, deficiencies of each nutrient independently led to ceramide accumulation and to caspase activation, both recognized signals of several apoptotic pathways. A similar profile of caspases was activated in PC12 cells deprived of choline, methionine, tryptophan or isoleucine. More than one caspase was involved and these caspases appeared to transmit parallel signals for apoptosis induction because only broad-spectrum caspase inhibitors, but not inhibitors for specific individual caspases inhibited apoptosis in choline- or methionine-deprived cells. The induction of these caspase-dependent apoptosis pathways likely did not involve the same upstream signals. Choline deficiency perturbed choline metabolism but did not affect protein synthesis, whereas amino acid deficiencies inhibited protein synthesis but did not perturb choline metabolism. In addition, a subclone of PC12 cells that was resistant to choline deficiency-induced apoptosis was not resistant to tryptophan deficiency-induced apoptosis. These observations suggest that deficiency of each studied nutrient activates different pathways for signaling apoptosis that ultimately converge on a common execution pathway.
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