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J Exp Med. 1998 Feb 16;187(4):587-600.

Caspases are activated in a branched protease cascade and control distinct downstream processes in Fas-induced apoptosis.

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Department of Hematology and Oncology, Clinical Sciences for Pathological Organs, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, Kyoto 606, Japan.


Two novel synthetic tetrapeptides, VEID-CHO and DMQD-CHO, could selectively inhibit caspase-6 and caspase-3, respectively. We used these inhibitors to dissect the pathway of caspase activation in Fas-stimulated Jurkat cells and identify the roles of each active caspase in apoptotic processes. Affinity labeling techniques revealed a branched protease cascade in which caspase-8 activates caspase-3 and -7, and caspase-3, in turn, activates caspase-6. Both caspase-6 and -3 have major roles in nuclear apoptosis. Caspase-6 cleaves nuclear mitotic apparatus protein (NuMA) and mediates the shrinkage and fragmentation of nuclei. Caspase-3 cleaves NuMA at sites distinct from caspase-6, and mediates DNA fragmentation and chromatin condensation. It is also involved in extranuclear apoptotic events: cleavage of PAK2, formation of apoptotic bodies, and exposure of phosphatidylserine on the cell surface. In contrast, a caspase(s) distinct from caspase-3 or -6 mediates the disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential (permeability transition) and the shrinkage of cytoplasm. These findings demonstrate that caspases are organized in a protease cascade, and that each activated caspase plays a distinct role(s) in the execution of Fas-induced cell death.

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