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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2009 Dec;50(12):6006-14. doi: 10.1167/iovs.09-3628. Epub 2009 Jul 30.

Dual involvement of caspase-4 in inflammatory and ER stress-induced apoptotic responses in human retinal pigment epithelial cells.

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Department of Ophthalmology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105, USA.



To investigate the functional involvement of caspase-4 in human retinal pigment epithelial (hRPE) cells.


Expression and activation of caspase-4 in hRPE cells were measured after stimulation with proinflammatory agents IL-1beta (2 ng/mL), TNF-alpha (20 ng/mL), lipopolysaccharide (1000 ng/mL), interferon-gamma (500 U/mL), or monocyte coculture in the absence or presence of immunomodulating agent cyclosporine (3 or 30 ng/mL), dexamethasone (10 microM), or IL-10 (100 U/mL) and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress inducer thapsigargin (25 nM) or tunicamycin (3 or 10 microM). The onset of ER stress was determined by expression of GRP78. The involvement of caspase-4 in inflammation and apoptosis was further examined by treating the cells with caspase-4 inhibitor Z-LEVD-fmk, caspase-1 and -4 inhibitor Z-YVAD-fmk, and pan-caspase inhibitor Z-VAD-fmk.


Caspase-4 mRNA expression and protein activation were induced by all the proinflammatory agents and ER stress inducers tested in this study. Caspase-4 activation was blocked or reduced by dexamethasone and IL-10. Elevated ER stress by proinflammatory agents and ER stress inducers was shown by increased expression of the ER stress marker GRP78. The induced caspase-4 and caspase-3 activities by tunicamycin and the stimulated IL-8 protein expression by IL-1beta were markedly reduced by caspase-4 inhibitor Z-LEVD-fmk. Although caspase-4 inhibitor Z-LEVD-fmk and caspase-1 and -4 inhibitor Z-YVAD-fmk reduced tunicamycin-induced hRPE apoptotic cell death by 59% and 86%, respectively, pan-caspase inhibitor Z-VAD-fmk completely abolished the induced apoptosis.


Caspase-4 is dually involved in hRPE proinflammatory and proapoptotic responses. Various proinflammatory stimuli and ER stress induce hRPE caspase-4 mRNA synthesis and protein activation. ER stress-induced hRPE cell death is caspase and, in part, caspase-4 dependent.

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