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Cell Death Dis. 2012 Jul 5;3:e338. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2012.86.

Caspase-1: is IL-1 just the tip of the ICEberg?

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Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


Caspase-1, formerly known as interleukin (IL)-1-converting enzyme is best established as the protease responsible for the processing of the key pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-1β from an inactive precursor to an active, secreted molecule. Thus, caspase-1 is regarded as a key mediator of inflammatory processes, and has become synonymous with inflammation. In addition to the processing of IL-1β, caspase-1 also executes a rapid programme of cell death, termed pyroptosis, in macrophages in response to intracellular bacteria. Pyroptosis is also regarded as a host response to remove the niche of the bacteria and to hasten their demise. These processes are generally accepted as the main roles of caspase-1. However, there is also a wealth of literature supporting a direct role for caspase-1 in non-infectious cell death processes. This is true in mammals, but also in non-mammalian vertebrates where caspase-1-dependent processing of IL-1β is absent because of the lack of appropriate caspase-1 cleavage sites. This literature is most prevalent in the brain where caspase-1 may directly regulate neuronal cell death in response to diverse insults. We attempt here to summarise the evidence for caspase-1 as a cell death enzyme and propose that, in addition to the processing of IL-1β, caspase-1 has an important and a conserved role as a cell death protease.

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