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J Biol Chem. 2010 Feb 19;285(8):5569-80. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.078113. Epub 2009 Dec 18.

Vaccinia virus protein F1L is a caspase-9 inhibitor.

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Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Apoptosis plays important roles in host defense, including the elimination of virus-infected cells. The executioners of apoptosis are caspase family proteases. We report that vaccinia virus-encoded F1L protein, previously recognized as anti-apoptotic viral Bcl-2 family protein, is a caspase-9 inhibitor. F1L binds to and specifically inhibits caspase-9, the apical protease in the mitochondrial cell death pathway while failing to inhibit other caspases. In cells, F1L inhibits apoptosis and proteolytic processing of caspases induced by overexpression of caspase-9 but not caspase-8. An N-terminal region of F1L preceding the Bcl-2-like fold accounts for caspase-9 inhibition and significantly contributes to the anti-apoptotic activity of F1L. Viral F1L thus provides the first example of caspase inhibition by a Bcl-2 family member; it functions both as a suppressor of proapoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins and as an inhibitor of caspase-9, thereby neutralizing two sequential steps in the mitochondrial cell death pathway.

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