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This article is the author's final published version in Cell Death Discovery, Volume 9, Issue 1, 2023, Article number 386.

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The terminal differentiation of lens fiber cells involves elimination of their organelles, which must occur while still maintaining their functionality throughout a lifetime. Removal of non-nuclear organelles is accomplished through induction of autophagy following the spatiotemporal suppression of the PI3K/Akt signaling axis. However, blocking this pathway is not alone sufficient to induce removal of fiber cell nuclei. While the final steps in fiber cell nuclear elimination are highlighted by the appearance of TUNEL-positive nuclei, which are associated with activation of the lens-specific DNaseIIβ, there are many steps in the process that precede the appearance of double stranded DNA breaks. We showed that this carefully regulated process, including the early changes in nuclear morphology resulting in nuclear condensation, cleavage of lamin B, and labeling by pH2AX, is reminiscent of the apoptotic process associated with caspase activation. Multiple caspases are known to be expressed and activated during lens cell differentiation. In this study, we investigated the link between two caspase downstream targets associated with apoptosis, ICAD, whose cleavage by caspase-3 leads to activation of CAD, a DNase that can create both single- and double-stranded DNA cleavages, and lamin B, a primary component of the nuclear lamina. We discovered that the specific inhibition of caspase-3 activation prevents both lamin B and DNA cleavage. Inhibiting caspase-3 did not prevent nuclear condensation or removal of the nuclear membrane. In contrast, a pan-caspase inhibitor effectively suppressed condensation of fiber cell nuclei during differentiation. These studies provide evidence that caspases play an important role in the process of removing fiber cell nuclei during lens differentiation.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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