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Eur Cytokine Netw. 2002 Oct-Dec;13(4):404-6.

A subset of caspase substrates functions as the Jekyll and Hyde of apoptosis.

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  • 1Institut de biologie cellulaire et de morphologie (IBCM), Universit√© de Lausanne, Switzerland.


Cleavage of caspase substrates is believed to be the commitment point that will lead a cell towards apoptosis. While the cleavage of some caspase substrates participates directly in the dismantling of the cell, others regulate the extent of caspase activation. In this communication, we discuss some recent findings indicating that two caspase substrates, MEKK1 and RasGAP, change their functions from anti- to pro-apoptotic as caspase activity increases. MEKK1 is a MAPK kinase kinase regulating the JNK MAPK pathway. As a full-length protein, MEKK1 generates protective signals (e.g. in cardiomyocytes), but potentiates apoptosis when cleaved by caspases. This switch is mediated by a translocation of the kinase activity from insoluble to soluble cellular structures. RasGAP is a regulator of Ras GTPase family members. As a full-length protein, RasGAP does not modulate apoptosis. However, low caspase activity readily induces the cleavage of RasGAP into an N-terminal fragment that generates potent anti-apoptotic signals. At higher caspase activity, the N-terminal fragment is further cleaved into two fragments that strongly potentiate apoptosis. RasGAP can, thus, be viewed as an apoptostat because it allows the cells to determine when caspases have been mildly activated to fulfill functions other than apoptosis or when caspases are strongly activated to mediate apoptosis.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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