Caspase substrates and cellular remodeling

Annu Rev Biochem. 2011;80:1055-87. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biochem-061809-121639.


The caspases are unique proteases that mediate the major morphological changes of apoptosis and various other cellular remodeling processes. As we catalog and study the myriad proteins subject to cleavage by caspases, we are beginning to appreciate the full functional repertoire of these enzymes. Here, we examine current knowledge about caspase cleavages: what kinds of proteins are cut, in what contexts, and to what end. After reviewing basic caspase biology, we describe the technologies that enable high-throughput caspase substrate discovery and the datasets they have yielded. We discuss how caspases recognize their substrates and how cleavages are conserved among different metazoan organisms. Rather than comprehensively reviewing all known substrates, we use examples to highlight some functional impacts of caspase cuts during apoptosis and differentiation. Finally, we discuss the roles caspase substrates can play in medicine. Though great progress has been made in this field, many important areas still await exploration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Caspases / chemistry*
  • Caspases / classification
  • Caspases / genetics
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Dimerization
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / methods
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Caspases