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Cell Death Differ. 2017 Aug;24(8):1314-1325. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2017.18. Epub 2017 Feb 24.

Metacaspases versus caspases in development and cell fate regulation.

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Department of Molecular Sciences, Uppsala BioCenter, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Linnean Center for Plant Biology, Uppsala, Sweden.
Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), CSIC-IRTA-UAB-UB, Campus UAB Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain.
Umeaå Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeaå University, Umeaå, Sweden.


Initially found to be critically involved in inflammation and apoptosis, caspases have since then been implicated in the regulation of various signaling pathways in animals. How caspases and caspase-mediated processes evolved is a topic of great interest and hot debate. In fact, caspases are just the tip of the iceberg, representing a relatively small group of mostly animal-specific enzymes within a broad family of structurally related cysteine proteases (family C14 of CD clan) found in all kingdoms of life. Apart from caspases, this family encompasses para- and metacaspases, and all three groups of proteases exhibit significant variation in biochemistry and function in vivo. Notably, metacaspases are present in all eukaryotic lineages with a remarkable absence in animals. Thus, metacaspases and caspases must have adapted to operate under distinct cellular and physiological settings. Here we discuss biochemical properties and biological functions of metacaspases in comparison to caspases, with a major focus on the regulation of developmental aspects in plants versus animals.

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