Apoptosome: a platform for the activation of initiator caspases

Cell Death Differ. 2007 Jan;14(1):56-65. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4402028. Epub 2006 Sep 15.


Apoptosome refers to the adaptor protein complex that mediates the activation of an initiator caspase at the onset of apoptosis. In mammalian cells, caspase-9, caspase-8, and caspase-2 rely on the apoptotic protease-activating factor 1 (Apaf-1)-apoptosome, death-inducing signaling complex (DISC), and PIDDosome, respectively, for activation. In Drosophila, activation of the caspase-9 homolog Dronc requires assembly of an apoptosome comprised of Dark/Hac-1/Dapaf-1. In Caenorhabditis elegans, activation of the caspase CED-3 is facilitated by the CED-4-apoptosome. Recent biochemical and structural investigation revealed significant insights into the assembly and function of the various apoptosomes. Nonetheless, conclusive mechanisms by which the initiator caspases are activated by the apoptosomes remain elusive. Several models have been proposed to explain the activation process. The induced proximity model summarizes the general process of initiator caspase activation. The proximity-driven dimerization model describes how initiator caspases respond to induced proximity and offers an explanation for their activation. Regardless of how initiator caspases are activated, enhanced activity must be correlated with altered active site conformation. The induced conformation model posits that the activated conformation for the active site of a given initiator caspase is attained through direct interaction with the apoptosome or through homo-oligomerization facilitated by the apoptosome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosomes / metabolism*
  • Caspases, Initiator / chemistry
  • Caspases, Initiator / metabolism*
  • Dimerization
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation


  • Apoptosomes
  • Caspases, Initiator