Cell death attenuation by `Usurpin', a mammalian DED-caspase homologue that precludes caspase-8 recruitment and activation by the CD-95 (Fas, APO-1) receptor complex
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Apoptotic cell suicide initiated by ligation of CD95 (Fas/APO-1) occurs through recruitment, oligomerization and autocatalytic activation of the cysteine protease, caspase-8 (MACH, FLICE, Mch5). An endogenous mammalian regulator of this process, named Usurpin, has been identified (aliases for Usurpin include CASH, Casper, CLARP, FLAME-1, FLIP, I-FLICE and MRIT). This protein is ubiquitously expressed and exists as at least three isoforms arising by alternative mRNA splicing. The Usurpin gene is comprised of 13 exons and is clustered within approximately 200 Kb with the caspase-8 and -10 genes on human chromosome 2q33-34. The Usurpin polypeptide has features in common with pro-caspase-8 and -10, including tandem 'death effector domains' on the N-terminus of a large subunit/small subunit caspase-like domain, but it lacks key residues that are necessary for caspase proteolytic activity, including the His and Cys which form the catalytic substrates diad, and residues that stabilize the P1 aspartic acid in substrates. Retro-mutation of these residues to functional caspase counterparts failed to restore proteolytic activity, indicating that other determinants also ensure the absence of catalytic potential. Usurpin heterodimerized with pro-caspase-8 in vitro and precluded pro-caspase-8 recruitment by the FADD/MORT1 adapter protein. Cell death induced by CD95 (Fas/APO-1) ligation was attenuated in cells transfected with Usurpin. In vivo, a Usurpin deficit was found in cardiac infarcts where TUNEL-positive myocytes and active caspase-3 expression were prominent following ischemia/reperfusion injury. In contrast, abundant Usurpin expression (and a caspase-3 deficit) occurred in surrounding unaffected cardiac tissue, suggesting reciprocal regulation of these pro- and anti-apoptotic molecules in vivo. Usurpin thus appears to be an endogenous modulator of apoptosis sensitivity in mammalian cells, including the susceptibility of cardiac myocytes to apoptotic death following ischemia/ reperfusion injury.
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