Human inhibitor of apoptosis proteins: why XIAP is the black sheep of the family

EMBO Rep. 2006 Oct;7(10):988-94. doi: 10.1038/sj.embor.7400795.


Several of the inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP) family members regulate apoptosis in response to various cellular assaults. Some members are also involved in cell signalling, mitosis and targeting proteins to the ubiquitin-proteasome degradation machinery. The most intensively studied family member, X-linked IAP (XIAP), is a potent inhibitor of caspase activity; hence, it is generally assumed that direct caspase inhibition is an important conserved function of most members of the family. Biochemical and structural studies have precisely mapped the elements of XIAP required for caspase inhibition. Intriguingly, these elements are not conserved among IAPs. Here, we review current knowledge of the caspase-inhibitory potential of the human IAPs and show that XIAP is probably the only bona fide caspase inhibitor, suggesting that the other family members never gained the ability to directly inhibit caspase activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Genes, X-Linked / physiology
  • Glutathione Transferase / genetics
  • Humans
  • Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins / chemistry
  • Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • X-Linked Inhibitor of Apoptosis Protein / chemistry
  • X-Linked Inhibitor of Apoptosis Protein / physiology*


  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • X-Linked Inhibitor of Apoptosis Protein
  • Glutathione Transferase