Apoptotic and non-apoptotic roles of caspases in neuronal physiology and pathophysiology

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2012 May 18;13(6):395-406. doi: 10.1038/nrn3228.


Caspases are cysteine proteases that mediate apoptosis, which is a form of regulated cell death that effectively and efficiently removes extra and unnecessary cells during development. In the mature nervous system, caspases are not only involved in mediating cell death but also regulatory events that are important for neural functions, such as axon pruning and synapse elimination, which are necessary to refine mature neuronal circuits. Furthermore, caspases can be reactivated to cause cell death as well as non-lethal changes in neurons during numerous pathological processes. Thus, although a global activation of caspases leads to apoptosis, restricted and localized activation may control normal physiology and pathophysiology in living neurons. This Review explores the multiple roles of caspase activity in neurons.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / physiology
  • Axons / physiology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / physiology
  • Caspases / physiology*
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Enzyme Activation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nervous System / growth & development
  • Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Caspases