The proteolytic procaspase activation network: an in vitro analysis

Cell Death Differ. 1999 Nov;6(11):1117-24. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4400589.


In general, apoptotic stimuli lead to activation of caspases. Once activated, a caspase can induce intracellular signaling pathways involving proteolytic activation of other caspase family members. We report the in vitro processing of eight murine procaspases by their enzymatically active counterparts. Caspase-8 processed all procaspases examined. Caspase-1 and -11 processed the effector caspases procaspase-3 and -7, and to a lesser extent procaspase-6. However, vice versa, none of the caspase-1-like procaspases was activated by the effector caspases. This suggests that the caspase-1 subfamily members either act upstream of the apoptosis effector caspases or else are part of a totally separate activation pathway. Procaspase-2 was maturated by caspase-8 and -3, and to a lesser extent by caspase-7, while the active caspase-2 did not process any of the procaspases examined, except its own precursor. Hence, caspase-2 might not be able to initiate a wide proteolytic signaling cascade. Additionally, cleavage data reveal not only proteolytic amplification between caspase-3 and -8, caspase-6 and -3, and caspase-6 and -7, but also positive feedback loops involving multiple activated caspases. Our results suggest the existence of a hierarchic proteolytic procaspase activation network, which would lead to a dramatic increase in multiple caspase activities once key caspases are activated. The proteolytic procaspase activation network might allow that different apoptotic stimuli result in specific cleavage of substrates responsible for typical processes at the cell membrane, the cytosol, the organelles, and the nucleus, which characterize a cell dying by apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caspases / genetics
  • Caspases / immunology
  • Caspases / isolation & purification
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Escherichia coli
  • Gene Expression
  • Mice
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / immunology
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism


  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Caspases