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J Biol Chem. 1998 Oct 16;273(42):27084-90.

Pro-caspase-3 is a major physiologic target of caspase-8.

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The Program for Apoptosis & Cell Death Research, The Burnham Institute, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


The apoptotic signal triggered by ligation of members of the death receptor family is promoted by sequential activation of caspase zymogens. We show here that in a purified system, the initiator caspases-8 and -10 directly process the executioner pro-caspase-3 with activation rates (kcat/Km) of 8.7 x 10(5) and 2.8 x 10(5) M-1 s-1, respectively. These rates are of sufficient magnitude to indicate direct processing in vivo. Differentially processed forms of caspase-3 that accumulate during its activation have similar rates of activation, activities, and specificities. The pattern and rate of caspase-8 induced activation of pro-caspase-3 in cytosolic extracts was the same as in a purified system. Moreover, immunodepletion of a putative intermediary in the pathway to activation, pro-caspase-9, was without consequence. Taken together these data demonstrate that the initiator caspase-8 can directly activate pro-caspase-3 without the requirement for an accelerator. The in vitro data thus help to deconvolute previous in vivo transfection studies which have debated the role of a direct versus indirect transmission of the apoptotic signal generated by ligation of death receptors.

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