Regulation of apoptosis by the ubiquitin and proteasome pathway

J Cell Mol Med. Jan-Mar 2002;6(1):25-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2002.tb00309.x.


Regulated proteolysis plays important roles in cell physiology as well as in pathological conditions. In most of the cases, regulated proteolysis is carried out by the ubiquitin- and proteasome-dependent proteolytic system, which is also in charge of the bulk of cytoplasmic proteolysis. However, apoptosis or the process of programmed cell death is regulated by a different proteolytic system, i.e. by caspases, a family of specialized cysteine proteases. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence of a crosstalk between the apoptotic pathways and the ubiquitin and proteasome system, whose function in apoptosis appears to be very complex. Proteasome inhibitors induce apoptosis in multiple cell types, while in other they are relatively harmless or even prevent apoptosis induced by other stimuli. Proteasomes degrade specific proteins during apoptosis, but on the other hand some components of the proteasome system are degraded by caspases. The knowledge about the involvement of the ubiquitin- and proteasome-dependent system in apoptosis is already clinically exploited, since proteasome inhibitors are being tested as experimental drugs in the treatment of cancer and other pathological conditions, where manipulation of apoptosis is desirable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Structure
  • Multienzyme Complexes / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Protein Folding
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • Ubiquitin
  • Caspases
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex