Old, new and emerging functions of caspases

Cell Death Differ. 2015 Apr;22(4):526-39. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2014.216. Epub 2014 Dec 19.


Caspases are proteases with a well-defined role in apoptosis. However, increasing evidence indicates multiple functions of caspases outside apoptosis. Caspase-1 and caspase-11 have roles in inflammation and mediating inflammatory cell death by pyroptosis. Similarly, caspase-8 has dual role in cell death, mediating both receptor-mediated apoptosis and in its absence, necroptosis. Caspase-8 also functions in maintenance and homeostasis of the adult T-cell population. Caspase-3 has important roles in tissue differentiation, regeneration and neural development in ways that are distinct and do not involve any apoptotic activity. Several other caspases have demonstrated anti-tumor roles. Notable among them are caspase-2, -8 and -14. However, increased caspase-2 and -8 expression in certain types of tumor has also been linked to promoting tumorigenesis. Increased levels of caspase-3 in tumor cells causes apoptosis and secretion of paracrine factors that promotes compensatory proliferation in surrounding normal tissues, tumor cell repopulation and presents a barrier for effective therapeutic strategies. Besides this caspase-2 has emerged as a unique caspase with potential roles in maintaining genomic stability, metabolism, autophagy and aging. The present review focuses on some of these less studied and emerging functions of mammalian caspases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Carcinogenesis
  • Caspases / chemistry
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Regeneration


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Caspases