Journal article Open Access

Potential Roles of Electrogenic Ion Transport and Plasma Membrane Depolarization in Apoptosis

Franco, R.; Bortner, C. D.; Cidlowski, J. A.

Apoptosis is characterized by the programmed activation of specific biochemical pathways leading to the organized demise of cells. To date, aspects of the intracellular signaling machinery involved in this phenomenon have been extensively dissected and characterized. However, recent studies have elucidated a novel role for changes in the intracellular milieu of the cells as important modulators of the cell death program. Specially, intracellular ionic homeostasis has been reported to be a determinant in both the activation and progression of the apoptotic cascade. Several apoptotic insults trigger specific changes in ionic gradients across the plasma membrane leading to depolarization of the plasma membrane potential (PMP). These changes lead to ionic imbalance early during apoptosis. Several studies have also suggested the activation and/or modulation of specific ionic transport mechanisms including ion channels, transporters and ATPases, as mediators of altered intracellular ionic homeostasis leading to PMP depolarization during apoptosis. However, the role of PMP depolarization and of the changes in ionic homeostasis during the progression of apoptosis are still unclear. This review summarizes the current knowledge regarding the causes and consequences of PMP depolarization during apoptosis. We also review the potential electrogenic ion transport mechanisms associated with this event, including the net influx/efflux of cations and anions. An understanding of these mechamisms could lead to the generation of new therapeutic approaches for a variety of diseases involving apoptosis.

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