Real-time dynamics of Ca2+, caspase-3/7, and morphological changes in retinal ganglion cell apoptosis under elevated pressure

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Quantitative information on the dynamics of multiple molecular processes in individual live cells under controlled stress is central to the understanding of the cell behavior of interest and the establishment of reliable models. Here, the dynamics of the apoptosis regulator intracellular Ca(2+), apoptosis effector caspase-3/7, and morphological changes, as well as temporal correlation between them at the single cell level, are examined in retinal gangling cell line (differentiated RGC-5 cells) undergoing apoptosis at elevated hydrostatic pressure using a custom-designed imaging platform that allows long-term real-time simultaneous imaging of morphological and molecular-level physiological changes in large numbers of live cells (beyond the field-of-view of typical microscopy) under controlled hydrostatic pressure. This examination revealed intracellular Ca(2+) elevation with transient single or multiple peaks of less than 0.5 hour duration appearing at the early stages (typically less than 5 hours after the onset of 100 mmHg pressure) followed by gradual caspase-3/7 activation at late stages (typically later than 5 hours). The data reveal a strong temporal correlation between the Ca(2+) peak occurrence and morphological changes of neurite retraction and cell body shrinkage. This suggests that Ca(2+) elevation, through its impact on ion channel activity and water efflux, is likely responsible for the onset of apoptotic morphological changes. Moreover, the data show a significant cell-to-cell variation in the onset of caspase-3/7 activation, an inevitable consequence of the stochastic nature of the underlying biochemical reactions not captured by conventional assays based on population-averaged cellular responses. This real-time imaging study provides, for the first time, statistically significant data on simultaneous multiple molecular level changes to enable refinements and testing of models of the dynamics of mitochondria-mediated apoptosis. Further, the platform developed and the approach has direct significance to the study of a variety of signaling pathway phenomena.




Lee, J. K., Lu, S., & Madhukar, A. (2010). Real-time dynamics of Ca2+, caspase-3/7, and morphological changes in retinal ganglion cell apoptosis under elevated pressure. PLoS ONE, 5(10).

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