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Cell Death Differ. 2007 Jan;14(1):44-55. Epub 2006 Oct 20.

Caspases in cell survival, proliferation and differentiation.

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Unit of Molecular Signalling and Cell Death, Department for Molecular Biomedical Research, Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), Ghent University, Ghent (Zwijnaarde), Belgium.


Caspases, a family of evolutionarily, conserved cysteinyl proteases, mediate both apoptosis and inflammation through aspartate-specific cleavage of a wide number of cellular substrates. Most substrates of apoptotic caspases have been conotated with cellular dismantling, while inflammatory caspases mediate the proteolytic activation of inflammatory cytokines. Through detailed functional analysis of conditional caspase-deficient mice or derived cells, caspase biology has been extended to cellular responses such as cell differentiation, proliferation and NF-kappaB activation. Here, we discuss recent data indicating that non-apoptotic functions of caspases involve proteolysis exerted by their catalytic domains as well as non-proteolytic functions exerted by their prodomains. Homotypic oligomerization motifs in the latter mediate the recruitment of adaptors and effectors that modulate NF-kappaB activation. The non-apoptotic functions of caspases suggest that they may become activated independently of--or without--inducing an apoptotic cascade. Moreover, the existence of non-catalytic caspase-like molecules such as human caspase-12, c-FLIP and CARD-only proteins further supports the non-proteolytic functions of caspases in the regulation of cell survival, proliferation, differentiation and inflammation.

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