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J Biol Chem. 1998 Mar 20;273(12):7141-7.

Caspase-dependent cleavage of signaling proteins during apoptosis. A turn-off mechanism for anti-apoptotic signals.

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Program in Molecular Signal Transduction, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver, Colorado 80206, USA.


Caspases are activated during apoptosis and cleave specific proteins, resulting in the irreversible commitment to cell death. The signal transduction proteins MEKK1, p21-activated kinase 2, and focal adhesion kinase are caspase substrates that contribute to the cell death response when cleaved. Thirty additional signaling proteins were screened for their ability to be cleaved during apoptosis. Twenty-two of these proteins were not affected in Jurkat cells stimulated to undergo apoptosis by Fas ligation, exposure to ultraviolet-C or incubation with etoposide. Ras GTPase-activating protein was found to be a caspase substrate whose cleavage followed the same time course as that for activation of caspase activity and the cleavage of MEKK1 and focal adhesion kinase. Four additional proteins, Cbl, Cbl-b, Raf-1, and Akt-1, were cleaved later in the apoptotic response. These signaling proteins were similarly cleaved in U937 cells undergoing apoptosis. Cleavage of the proteins was blocked by caspase inhibitors in Jurkat cells or in U937 cells expressing BclxL, demonstrating that the cleavage was dependent on caspase activation. Cleavage of Raf-1 and Akt correlated with the loss of extracellular signal-regulated kinase and Akt activities in apoptotic cells. Neither c-Jun N-terminal kinase nor p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase was cleaved in cells undergoing apoptosis, and the activation of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways was not compromised in apoptotic cells. These results indicate that caspase-dependent cleavage of specific proteins induces the turn off of survival pathways, such as the extracellular signal-regulated kinase and phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase/Akt pathways, that could otherwise interfere with the apoptotic response.

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