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Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 2008 Sep;151(1):10-27. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpb.2008.05.010. Epub 2008 Jul 3.

Caspases - an update.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Morehouse School of Medicine, 720 Westview Drive, SW., Atlanta, GA 30310, USA.


Caspases belong to a family of highly conserved aspartate-specific cysteine proteases and are members of the interleukin-1beta-converting enzyme family, present in multicellular organisms. The caspase gene family consists of 15 mammalian members that are grouped into two major sub-families, namely inflammatory caspases and apoptotic caspases. The apoptotic caspases are further subdivided into two sub-groups, initiator caspases and executioner caspases. The caspases form a caspase-cascade system that plays the central role in the induction, transduction and amplification of intracellular apoptotic signals for cell fate determination, regulation of immunity, and cellular proliferation and differentiation. The substrates of apoptotic caspases have been associated with cellular dismantling, while inflammatory caspases mediate the proteolytic activation of inflammatory cytokines. The activation of this delicate caspase-cascade system and its functions are regulated by a variety of regulatory molecules, such as the inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP), FLICE, calpain, and Ca(2+). Based on the available literature we have reviewed and discussed the members of the caspase family, caspase-cascade system, caspase-regulating molecules and their apoptotic and non-apoptotic functions in cellular life and death. Also recent progress in the molecular structure and physiological role of non-mammalian caspases such as paracaspases, metacaspases and caspase-like-protease family members are included in relation to that of mammalian species.

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