SHOX triggers the lysosomal pathway of apoptosis via oxidative stress

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The SHOX gene encodes for a transcription factor important for normal bone development. Mutations in the gene are associated with idiopathic short stature and are responsible for the growth failure and skeletal defects found in the majority of patients with Léri–Weill dyschondrosteosis (LWD) and Langer mesomelic dysplasia. SHOX is expressed in growth plate chondrocytes where it is supposed to modulate the proliferation, differentiation and cell death of these cells. Supporting this hypothesis, in vitro studies have shown that SHOX expression induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in both transformed and primary cells. In this study, we further characterized the cell death mechanisms triggered by SHOX and compared them with the effects induced by one clinically relevant mutant form of SHOX, detected in LWD patients (SHOX R153L) and a SHOX C-terminally truncated version (L185X). We show that SHOX expression in U2OS osteosarcoma cells leads to oxidative stress that, in turn, induces lysosomal membrane rupture with release of active cathepsin B to the cytosol and subsequent activation of the intrinsic apoptotic pathway characterized by mitochondrial membrane permeabilization and caspase activation. Importantly, cells expressing SHOX R153L or L185X did not display any of these features. Given the fact that many of the events observed in SHOX-expressing cells also characterize the complex cell death process occurring in the growth plate during endochondral ossification, our findings further support the hypothesis that SHOX may play a central role in the regulation of the cell death pathways activated during long bone development.

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