Neuronal caspase-3 signaling: not only cell death

Cell Death Differ. 2010 Jul;17(7):1104-14. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2009.180. Epub 2009 Dec 4.


Caspases are a family of cysteinyl aspartate-specific proteases that are highly conserved in multicellular organisms and function as central regulators of apoptosis. A member of this family, caspase-3, has been identified as a key mediator of apoptosis in neuronal cells. Recent studies in snail, fly and rat suggest that caspase-3 also functions as a regulatory molecule in neurogenesis and synaptic activity. In this study, in addition to providing an overview of the mechanism of caspase-3 activation, we review genetic and pharmacological studies of apoptotic and nonapoptotic functions of caspase-3 and discuss the regulatory mechanism of caspase-3 for executing nonapoptotic functions in the central nervous system. Knowledge of biochemical pathway(s) for nonapoptotic activation and modulation of caspase-3 has potential implications for the understanding of synaptic failure in the pathophysiology of neurological disorders. Fine-tuning of caspase-3 lays down a new challenge in identifying pharmacological avenues for treatment of many neurological disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Caspase 3 / genetics
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism*
  • Caspase 3 / physiology
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Mice
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction


  • Caspase 3