Human neutrophils have a short half-life and are believed to die by apoptosis or programmed cell death both in vivo and in vitro. We found that caspases are activated in a time-dependent manner in neutrophils undergoing spontaneous apoptosis, concomitant with other characteristic features of apoptotic cell death such as morphologic changes, phosphatidylserine (PS) exposure, and DNA fragmentation. The treatment of neutrophils with agonistic anti-Fas monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs) significantly accelerated this process. However, in cells treated with the potent neutrophil activator phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), caspase activity was only evident after pharmacologic inhibition of the nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase. Similarily, inhibition of the NADPH oxidase in constitutive and Fas/APO-1-triggered apoptosis resulted in increased rather than suppressed levels of caspase activity, suggesting that reactive oxygen species may prevent caspases from functioning optimally in these cells. Moreover, oxidants generated via the NADPH oxidase were essential for PS exposure during PMA-induced cell death, but not for neutrophils undergoing spontaneous apoptosis. We conclude that caspases are an important component of constitutive and Fas/APO-1-triggered neutrophil apoptosis. However, these redox sensitive enzymes are suppressed in activated neutrophils, and an alternate oxidant-dependent pathway is used to mediate PS exposure and neutrophil clearance under these conditions.
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