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J Biol Chem. 2000 Feb 18;275(7):5131-5.

Direct cleavage by the calcium-activated protease calpain can lead to inactivation of caspases.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, 30 Medical Drive, Singapore 117609, Singapore.


Caspases, a unique family of cysteine proteases involved in cytokine activation and in the execution of apoptosis can be sub-grouped according to the length of their prodomain. Long prodomain caspases such as caspase-8 and caspase-9 are believed to act mainly as upstream caspases to cleave downstream short prodomain caspases such as caspases-3 and -7. We report here the identification of caspases as direct substrates of calcium-activated proteases, calpains. Calpains cleave caspase-7 at sites distinct from those of the upstream caspases, generating proteolytically inactive fragments. Caspase-8 and caspase-9 can also be directly cleaved by calpains. Two calpain cleavage sites in caspase-9 have been identified by N-terminal sequencing of the cleaved products. Cleavage of caspase-9 by calpain generates truncated caspase-9 that is unable to activate caspase-3 in cell lysates. Furthermore, direct cleavage of caspase-9 by calpain blocks dATP and cytochrome-c induced caspase-3 activation. Therefore our results suggest that calpains may act as negative regulators of caspase processing and apoptosis by effectively inactivating upstream caspases.

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