Specific targeting of human caspases using designed ankyrin repeat proteins

Biol Chem. 2014 Oct;395(10):1243-52. doi: 10.1515/hsz-2014-0173.


Abstract Caspases play important roles in cell death, differentiation, and proliferation. Due to their high homology, especially of the active site, specific targeting of a particular caspase using substrate analogues is very difficult. Although commercially available small molecules based on peptides are lacking high specificity due to overlapping cleavage motives between different caspases, they are often used as specific tools. We have selected designed ankyrin repeat proteins (DARPins) against human caspases 1-9 and identified high-affinity binders for the targeted caspases, except for caspase 4. Besides previously reported caspase-specific DARPins, we generated novel DARPins (D1.73, D5.15, D6.11, D8.1, D8.4, and D9.2) and confirmed specificity for caspases 1, 5, 6, and 8 using a subset of caspase family members. In addition, we solved the crystal structure of caspase 8 in complex with DARPin D8.4. This binder interacts with non-conserved residues on the large subunit, thereby explaining its specificity. Structural analysis of this and other previously published crystal structures of caspase/DARPin complexes depicts two general binding areas either involving active site forming loops or a surface area laterally at the large subunit of the enzyme. Both surface areas involve non-conserved surface residues of caspases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ankyrin Repeat*
  • Caspase 8 / chemistry
  • Caspases / drug effects*
  • Chromatography, Gel
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Ribosomes
  • Surface Plasmon Resonance


  • Proteins
  • Caspase 8
  • Caspases

Associated data

  • PDB/2Y1L