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J Biol Chem. 2002 Dec 27;277(52):50834-41. Epub 2002 Oct 18.

Apocytochrome c blocks caspase-9 activation and Bax-induced apoptosis.

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  • 1Apoptosis Section, Regulation of Cell Growth Laboratory, NCI, National Institutes of Health, Frederick, Maryland 21702, USA.


Complex networks of signaling pathways control the apoptotic response and, therefore, cell survival. However, these networks converge on a common machinery, of which the caspase cysteine proteases are key components. Diverse apoptotic stimuli release holocytochrome c from mitochondria, allowing holocytochrome c to bind apoptotic protease activating factor-1 (Apaf-1), which in turn binds caspase-9 both activating this caspase and forming an Apaf-1/caspase-9 holoenzyme. Cytochrome c lacking heme (the apo form) cannot support caspase activation, although the reason for this has not been studied. Here we show that apocytochrome c still binds Apaf-1 and that it can block holo-dependent caspase activation in a cell-free system. In addition we show that overexpression of apocytochrome c blocks Bax-induced apoptosis in cells. Thus it is possible to modulate cell survival by interfering with the Apaf-1/cytochrome c interaction. Given the key role played by Apaf-1/cytochrome c in the apoptotic process, and the role of apoptosis in degenerative disease, this interaction may serve as a novel therapeutic target.

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