The mechanism of TNF-mediated cytotoxicity was studied in several cell lines, including L929 murine fibroblasts. TNF caused a time- and dose-dependent increase of ADP-ribosylation in L929 target cells parallel to cell death. During the course of TNF-mediated cytotoxicity in the presence of actinomycin D, an increase in ADP-ribosylation became apparent between 4 and 6 h after exposure to TNF. Intracellular NAD+ and ATP levels decreased parallel to but not preceding cell death. Two inhibitors of ADP-ribosylation, namely 3-aminobenzamide and nicotinamide, prevented TNF-mediated cytotoxicity. Another target, the human cervical carcinoma cell line ME-180, showed an increase in ADP-ribosylation when treated with TNF, and the cytotoxic action of TNF on this target cell was inhibited by these two inhibitors. In the absence of actinomycin D, treatment of L929 cells with TNF also increased ADP-ribosylation, and the cytotoxic action of TNF was inhibited by nicotinamide. These results indicate that ADP-ribosylation may be involved in the TNF-mediated cytotoxic reaction.

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