The basic mechanisms that underlie neurodegenerative diseases are unknown. Loss of function of specific regions of the brain is due to incapacitation of cells that constitute those regions. Cells can simply stop functioning normally (neurons may cease to transmit signals), or they may die. There is now evidence that the pathology of several neurodegenerative diseases is due to inappropriate apoptosis. This being the case, an understanding of the mediators of apoptosis, their identities, and their role in orchestrating death would be a vital step toward remedying the diseases. The central components of apoptotic pathways, proteases of the caspase family, are present in latent forms in all nucleated cells. Their activity is balanced by specific activation and inactivation events, and the molecular and biochemical controls have been well established in vitro and in model transformed cell lines. In this Mini-Review, we consider the current status of the basic control mechanisms and how these may be subverted during neurodegeneration.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.