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Gene trapping identifies transiently induced survival genes during programmed cell death

Frank Wempe2, Ji-Yeon Yang2, Joanna Hammann1 and Harald von Melchner1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory for Molecular Hematology, University of Frankfurt Medical School, 60590 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

2 These authors contributed equally to this work

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Genome Biology 2001, 2:research0023-research0023.10  doi:10.1186/gb-2001-2-7-research0023

Published: 27 June 2001



The existence of a constitutively expressed machinery for death in individual cells has led to the notion that survival factors repress this machinery and, if such factors are unavailable, cells die by default. In many cells, however, mRNA and protein synthesis inhibitors induce apoptosis, suggesting that in some cases transcriptional activity might actually impede cell death. To identify transcriptional mechanisms that interfere with cell death and survival, we combined gene trap mutagenesis with site-specific recombination (Cre/loxP system) to isolate genes from cells undergoing apoptosis by growth factor deprivation.


From an integration library consisting of approximately 2 × 106 unique proviral integrations obtained by infecting the interleukin-3 (IL-3)-dependent hematopoietic cell line - FLOXIL3 - with U3Cre gene trap virus, we have isolated 125 individual clones that converted to factor independence upon IL-3 withdrawal. Of 102 cellular sequences adjacent to U3Cre integration sites, 17% belonged to known genes, 11% matched single expressed sequence tags (ESTs) or full cDNAs with unknown function and 72% had no match within the public databases. Most of the known genes recovered in this analysis encoded proteins with survival functions.


We have shown that hematopoietic cells undergoing apoptosis after withdrawal of IL-3 activate survival genes that impede cell death. This results in reduced apoptosis and improved survival of cells treated with a transient apoptotic stimulus. Thus, apoptosis in hematopoietic cells is the end result of a conflict between death and survival signals, rather than a simple death by default.