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EMBO J. 1997 May 15;16(10):2805-13.

Identification of a Drosophila melanogaster ICE/CED-3-related protease, drICE.

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Biochemistry of the Cell Nucleus Laboratory, Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London, UK.


Cysteine proteases of the ICE/CED-3 family (caspases) are required for the execution of programmed cell death (PCD) in a wide range of multicellular organisms. Caspases are implicated in the execution of apoptosis in Drosophila melanogaster by the observation that expression of baculovirus p35, a caspase inhibitor, blocks cell death in vivo in Drosophila. We report here the identification and characterization of drICE, a D. melanogaster caspase. We show that overexpression of drICE sensitizes Drosophila cells to apoptotic stimuli and that expression of an N-terminally truncated form of drICE rapidly induces apoptosis in Drosophila cells. Induction of apoptosis by rpr overexpression or by cycloheximide or etoposide treatment of Drosophila cells results in proteolytic processing of drICE. We further show that drICE is a cysteine protease that cleaves baculovirus p35 and Drosophila lamin DmO in vitro and that drICE is expressed at all the stages of Drosophila development at which PCD can be induced. Taken together, these results strongly argue that drICE is an apoptotic caspase that acts downstream of rpr. drICE is therefore the first unequivocal link between the molecular machinery of Drosophila cell death and the conserved machinery of Caenorhabditis elegans and vertebrates. Identification of drICE should facilitate the elucidation of upstream regulators and downstream targets of caspases by genetic screening.

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