AIM2/ASC triggers caspase-8-dependent apoptosis in Francisella-infected caspase-1-deficient macrophages

Cell Death Differ. 2012 Oct;19(10):1709-21. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2012.51. Epub 2012 May 4.


The inflammasome is a signalling platform leading to caspase-1 activation. Caspase-1 causes pyroptosis, a necrotic-like cell death. AIM2 is an inflammasome sensor for cytosolic DNA. The adaptor molecule ASC mediates AIM2-dependent caspase-1 activation. To date, no function besides caspase-1 activation has been ascribed to the AIM2/ASC complex. Here, by comparing the effect of gene inactivation at different levels of the inflammasome pathway, we uncovered a novel cell death pathway activated in an AIM2/ASC-dependent manner. Francisella tularensis, the agent of tularaemia, triggers AIM2/ASC-dependent caspase-3-mediated apoptosis in caspase-1-deficient macrophages. We further show that AIM2 engagement leads to ASC-dependent, caspase-1-independent activation of caspase-8 and caspase-9 and that caspase-1-independent death is reverted upon caspase-8 inhibition. Caspase-8 interacts with ASC and active caspase-8 specifically colocalizes with the AIM2/ASC speck thus identifying the AIM2/ASC complex as a novel caspase-8 activation platform. Furthermore, we demonstrate that caspase-1-independent apoptosis requires the activation of caspase-9 and of the intrinsic pathway in a typical type II cell manner. Finally, we identify the AIM2/ASC-dependent caspase-1-independent pathway as an innate immune mechanism able to restrict bacterial replication in vitro and control IFN-γ levels in vivo in Casp1(KO) mice. This work underscores the crosstalk between inflammasome components and the apoptotic machinery and highlights the versatility of the pathway, which can switch from pyroptosis to apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Apoptosis*
  • CARD Signaling Adaptor Proteins
  • Caspase 1 / deficiency
  • Caspase 1 / genetics
  • Caspase 1 / metabolism
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Caspase 8 / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / deficiency
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Francisella tularensis / pathogenicity*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Inflammasomes / metabolism
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Tularemia / metabolism
  • Tularemia / microbiology
  • Tularemia / pathology


  • Aim2 protein, mouse
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • CARD Signaling Adaptor Proteins
  • Cytokines
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Inflammasomes
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Pycard protein, mouse
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 8
  • Caspase 1