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Leukemia. 2000 Aug;14(8):1514-25.

The most unkindest cut of all: on the multiple roles of mammalian caspases.

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Division of Toxicology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


The caspases, first discovered almost a decade ago, are intracellular cysteine proteases which have been shown to play an essential role in the initiation and execution phases of apoptotic cell death. Numerous strategies for the activation and inhibition of these 'killer' proteases have evolved, including the regulation of caspase expression and function at the transcriptional and post-translational level, as well as the expression of viral and cellular inhibitors of caspases. Emerging evidence in recent years has also implicated the caspases in various, nonapoptotic aspects of cellular physiology, such as cytokine processing during inflammation, differentiation of progenitor cells during erythropoiesis and lens fiber development, and proliferation of T lymphocytes, thus attesting to the pleiotropic functions of these proteases. The present review aims to discuss the multiple roles of the mammalian caspases with particular emphasis on their activation and regulation in cells of leukemic origin and the attendant possibilities of therapeutic intervention.

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