Caspase selective reagents for diagnosing apoptotic mechanisms

Cell Death Differ. 2019 Feb;26(2):229-244. doi: 10.1038/s41418-018-0110-y. Epub 2018 May 10.


Apical caspases initiate and effector caspases execute apoptosis. Reagents that can distinguish between caspases, particularly apical caspases-8, 9, and 10 are scarce and generally nonspecific. Based upon a previously described large-scale screen of peptide-based caspase substrates termed HyCoSuL, we sought to develop reagents to distinguish between apical caspases in order to reveal their function in apoptotic cell death paradigms. To this end, we selected tetrapeptide-based sequences that deliver optimal substrate selectivity and converted them to inhibitors equipped with a detectable tag (activity-based probes-ABPs). We demonstrate a strong relationship between substrate kinetics and ABP kinetics. To evaluate the utility of selective substrates and ABPs, we examined distinct apoptosis pathways in Jurkat T lymphocyte and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer lines triggered to undergo cell death via extrinsic or intrinsic apoptosis. We report the first highly selective substrate appropriate for quantitation of caspase-8 activity during apoptosis. Converting substrates to ABPs promoted loss-of-activity and selectivity, thus we could not define a single ABP capable of detecting individual apical caspases in complex mixtures. To overcome this, we developed a panel strategy utilizing several caspase-selective ABPs to interrogate apoptosis, revealing the first chemistry-based approach to uncover the participation of caspase-8, but not caspase-9 or -10 in TRAIL-induced extrinsic apoptosis. We propose that using select panels of ABPs can provide information regarding caspase-8 apoptotic signaling more faithfully than can single, generally nonspecific reagents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Caspase 10 / chemistry
  • Caspase 10 / genetics
  • Caspase 10 / isolation & purification*
  • Caspase 3 / chemistry
  • Caspase 3 / genetics
  • Caspase 3 / isolation & purification
  • Caspase 8 / chemistry
  • Caspase 8 / genetics
  • Caspase 8 / isolation & purification*
  • Caspase 9 / chemistry
  • Caspase 9 / genetics
  • Caspase 9 / isolation & purification*
  • Caspase Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Caspase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Kinetics
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Peptides
  • CASP9 protein, human
  • Caspase 10
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 8
  • Caspase 9