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Caspases--their role in apoptosis and other physiological processes as revealed by knock-out studies.

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Clinic for Craniomaxillofacial Surgery, Ahaus, Germany.


Caspases are crucial mediators of apoptosis, a form of physiological cell death. Their activation is carefully controlled by a philogenetically conserved death program, which is indispensable for the homeostasis and development of higher organisms. Dysregulation of apoptosis contributes to the pathogenesis of many human diseases. As effectors of the apoptotic machinery, caspases are considered potential therapeutic targets. In vitro studies have demonstrated the requirement of caspase activity for both the triggering phase as well as the execution of apoptosis, thus providing a molecular base for the fine-tuning of this process by pharmacological agents. The precise roles of the individual caspases in vivo and their functional relation to each other have been best demonstrated in genetically modified animals. The generation of single caspase-deficient mice have confirmed most of the data obtained in vitro and exposed some new aspects previously undetected in the cell culture system. Interestingly, inactivation of many caspases revealed not only their expected participation in apoptotic events as well as in the maturation of cytokines, but also provided hints about the role of at least some caspases in cell differentiation and stimulatory responses. In this review we will discuss what these studies have unveiled about the role of individual caspases in development, apoptosis, and inflammation, with particular focus on their role beyond the apoptotic process.

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