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Cell Death Differ. 1999 Nov;6(11):1087-98.

Apaf1 and the apoptotic machinery.

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  • Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Max-Planck-Institute of Biophysical Chemistry, Am Fassberg 11, 37077 Göttingen, Germany. fceccon@gwdg.de


The molecular characterization of the Caenorhabditis elegans cell death genes has been crucial in revealing some of the biochemical mechanisms underlying apoptosis in all animals. Four C. elegans genes, egl-1, ced-9, ced-4 and ced-3 are required for all somatic programmed cell death to occur. This genetic network is highly conserved during evolution. The pro-death gene egl-1 and the anti-death gene ced-9 have structural and functional similarities to the vertebrate Bcl2 gene family. The killer gene ced-3 encodes a cystein-aspartate protease (caspase), which is the archetype of a family of conserved proteins known as effectors of apoptosis in mammals. Zou and collaborators1 reported the biochemical identification of an apoptotic protease activating factor (Apaf1), a human homolog of C. elegans CED-4, providing important clues to how CED-4 and its potential relatives could work. A number of proteins have been shown to interact with Apaf1 or to be determinant for its activity as an apoptotic adapter. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the recent progress made in the field of developmental apoptosis by means of the murine Apaf1 targeted mutations. The central role of Apaf1 in the cell death machinery (apoptosome) and its involvement in different apoptotic pathways will also be discussed.

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