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Cell. 2001 Nov 2;107(3):399-407.

Crystal structure of a procaspase-7 zymogen: mechanisms of activation and substrate binding.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Lewis Thomas Laboratory, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.


Apoptosis is primarily executed by active caspases, which are derived from the inactive procaspase zymogens through proteolytic cleavage. Here we report the crystal structures of a caspase zymogen, procaspase-7, and an active caspase-7 without any bound inhibitors. Compared to the inhibitor-bound caspase-7, procaspase-7 zymogen exhibits significant structural differences surrounding the catalytic cleft, which precludes the formation of a productive conformation. Proteolytic cleavage between the large and small subunits allows rearrangement of essential loops in the active site, priming active caspase-7 for inhibitor/substrate binding. Strikingly, binding by inhibitors causes a 180 degrees flipping of the N terminus in the small subunit, which interacts with and stabilizes the catalytic cleft. These analyses reveal the structural mechanisms of caspase activation and demonstrate that the inhibitor/substrate binding is a process of induced fit.

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