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J Biol Chem. 2006 Feb 17;281(7):3876-88. Epub 2005 Dec 13.

Caspase-7 is directly activated by the approximately 700-kDa apoptosome complex and is released as a stable XIAP-caspase-7 approximately 200-kDa complex.

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Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit, Hodgkin Building, University of Leicester, UK.


MCF-7 cells lack caspase-3 but undergo mitochondrial-dependent apoptosis via caspase-7 activation. It is assumed that the Apaf-1-caspase-9 apoptosome processes caspase-7 in an analogous manner to that described for caspase-3. However, this has not been validated experimentally, and we have now characterized the caspase-7 activating apoptosome complex in MCF-7 cell lysates activated with dATP/cytochrome c. Apaf-1 oligomerizes to produce approximately 1.4-MDa and approximately 700-kDa apoptosome complexes, and the latter complex directly cleaves/activates procaspase-7. This approximately 700-kDa apoptosome complex, which is also formed in apoptotic MCF-7 cells, is assembled by rapid oligomerization of Apaf-1 and followed by a slower process of procaspase-9 recruitment and cleavage to form the p35/34 forms. However, procaspase-9 recruitment and processing are accelerated in lysates supplemented with caspase-3. In lysates containing very low levels of Smac and Omi/HtrA2, XIAP (X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis) binds tightly to caspase-9 in the apoptosome complex, and as a result caspase-7 processing is abrogated. In contrast, in MCF-7 lysates containing Smac and Omi/HtrA2, active caspase-7 is released from the apoptosome and forms a stable approximately 200-kDa XIAP-caspase-7 complex, which apparently does not contain cIAP1 or cIAP2. Thus, in comparison to caspase-3-containing cells, XIAP appears to have a more significant antiapoptotic role in MCF-7 cells because it directly inhibits caspase-7 activation by the apoptosome and also forms a stable approximately 200-kDa complex with active caspase-7.

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