A growing body of evidence now suggests that programmed cell death (PCD) occurs via non-apoptotic mechanisms as well as by apoptosis. In contrast to apoptosis, however, the molecular mechanisms involved in the regulation of non-apoptotic PCD remain only poorly understood. Here we show that ceramide induces a nonapoptotic PCD with a necrotic-like morphology in human glioma cells. Characteristically, the cell death was not accompanied by loss of the mitochondrial transmembrane potential, cytosolic release of cytochrome c from mitochondria, or the activation of the caspase cascade. Consistent with these characteristics, this ceramide-induced cell death was inhibited neither by the overexpression of Bcl-xL nor by the pan-caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk. However, strikingly, the ceramide-induced non-apoptotic cell death was inhibited by the activation of the Akt/protein kinase B pathway through the expression of a constitutively active version of Akt. The results for the first time indicate that the Akt kinase, known to play an essential role in survival factor-mediated inhibition of apoptotic cell death, is also involved in the regulation of non-apoptotic PCD.
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