Keratin 18 (K18 or KRT18) undergoes caspase-mediated cleavage during apoptosis, the significance of which is poorly understood. Here, we mutated the two caspase-cleavage sites (D238E and D397E) in K18 (K18-DE), followed by transgenic overexpression of the resulting mutant. We found that K18-DE mice develop extensive Fas-mediated liver damage compared to wild-type mice overexpressing K18 (K18-WT). Fas-stimulation of K18-WT mice or isolated hepatocytes caused K18 degradation. By contrast, K18-DE livers or hepatocytes maintained intact keratins following Fasstimulation, but showed hypo-phosphorylation at a major stresskinase- related keratin 8 (K8) phosphorylation site. Although K18-WT and K18-DE hepatocytes showed similar Fas-mediated caspase activation, K18-DE hepatocytes were more 'leaky' after a mild hypoosmotic challenge and were more susceptible to necrosis after Fas-stimulation or severe hypoosmotic stress. K8 hypophosphorylation was not due to the inhibition of kinase binding to the keratin but was due to mutation-induced inaccessibility to the kinase that phosphorylates K8. A stress-modulated keratin phospho-mutant expressed in hepatocytes phenocopied the hepatocyte susceptibility to necrosis but was found to undergo keratin filament reorganization during apoptosis. Therefore, the caspase cleavage of keratins might promote keratin filament reorganization during apoptosis. Interference with keratin caspase cleavage shunts hepatocytes towards necrosis and increases liver injury through the inhibition of keratin phosphorylation. These findings might extend to other intermediate filament proteins that undergo proteolysis during apoptosis.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cell Biology