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J Biol Chem. 2003 Mar 7;278(10):8091-8. Epub 2002 Dec 27.

Regulation of the Apaf-1/caspase-9 apoptosome by caspase-3 and XIAP.

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  • 1Idun Pharmaceuticals, Inc., San Diego, California 92121, USA.


The apoptosome is a multiprotein complex comprising Apaf-1, cytochrome c, and caspase-9 that functions to activate caspase-3 downstream of mitochondria in response to apoptotic signals. Binding of cytochrome c and dATP to Apaf-1 in the cytosol leads to the assembly of a heptameric complex in which each Apaf-1 subunit is bound noncovalently to a procaspase-9 subunit via their respective CARD domains. Assembly of the apoptosome results in the proteolytic cleavage of procaspase-9 at the cleavage site PEPD(315) to yield the large (p35) and small (p12) caspase-9 subunits. In addition to the PEPD site, caspase-9 contains a caspase-3 cleavage site (DQLD(330)), which when cleaved, produces a smaller p10 subunit in which the NH(2)-terminal 15 amino acids of p12, including the XIAP BIR3 binding motif, are removed. Using purified proteins in a reconstituted reaction in vitro, we have assessed the relative impact of Asp(315) and Asp(330) cleavage on caspase-9 activity within the apoptosome. In addition, we characterized the effect of caspase-3 feedback cleavage of caspase-9 on the rate of caspase-3 activation, and the potential ramifications of Asp(330) cleavage on XIAP-mediated inhibition of the apoptosome. We have found that cleavage of procaspase-9 at Asp(330) to generate p35, p10 or p37, p10 forms resulted in a significant increase (up to 8-fold) in apoptosome activity compared with p35/p12. The significance of this increase was demonstrated by the near complete loss of apoptosome-mediated caspase-3 activity when a point mutant (D330A) of procaspase-9 was substituted for wild-type procaspase-9 in the apoptosome. In addition, cleavage at Asp(330) exposed a novel p10 NH(2)-terminal peptide motif (AISS) that retained the ability to mediate XIAP inhibition of caspase-9. Thus, whereas feedback cleavage of caspase-9 by caspase-3 significantly increases the activity of the apoptosome, it does little to attenuate its sensitivity to inhibition by XIAP.

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