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Cell Death Differ. 2008 Mar;15(3):461-70. Epub 2007 Dec 14.

A biochemical analysis of the activation of the Drosophila caspase DRONC.

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Department of Haematology, Hanson Institute, IMVS, Adelaide, SA, Australia.


The activation of caspases is the principal event in the execution of apoptosis. Initiator caspases are activated through an autocatalytic mechanism often involving dimerisation or oligomerisation. In Drosophila, the only initiator caspase DRONC, is tightly inhibited by DIAP1 and removal of DIAP1 permits activation of DRONC by the Drosophila Apaf-1-related killer, ARK. ARK is proposed to facilitate DRONC oligomerisation and autoprocessing at residue E352. This study examines whether autoprocessing of DRONC is required for its activation and for DRONC-mediated cell death. Using purified recombinant proteins, we show here that while DRONC autocleaves at residue E352, mutation of this site did not abolish enzyme activation, DRICE-induced cleavage of DRONC or DRONC-mediated activation of DRICE. We performed a detailed mutational analysis of DRONC cleavage sites and show that overexpression of DRONC cleavage mutants in Drosophila cells retain pro-apoptotic activity. Using an in vitro cell-free assay, we found ARK alone did not activate DRONC and demonstrate a requirement for an additional cytosolic factor in ARK-mediated DRONC activation. These results suggest that, similar to mammalian caspase-2 and caspase-9, the initial cleavage of DRONC is not essential for its activation and suggest a mechanism of ARK-mediated DRONC activation different from that proposed previously.

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