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Ordering The Cytochrome C–initiated Caspase Cascade: Hierarchical Activation Of Caspases-2, -3, -6, -7, -8, And -10 In A Caspase-9–dependent Manner

Elizabeth A. Slee, Mary T. Harte, Ruth M. Kluck, Beni B. Wolf, Carlos A. Casiano, Donald D. Newmeyer, Hong-Gang Wang, John C. Reed, Donald W. Nicholson, Emad S. Alnemri, Douglas R. Green, Seamus J. Martin

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Exit of cytochrome c from mitochondria into the cytosol has been implicated as an important step in apoptosis. In the cytosol, cytochrome c binds to the CED-4 homologue, Apaf-1, thereby triggering Apaf-1–mediated activation of caspase-9. Caspase-9 is thought to propagate the death signal by triggering other caspase activation events, the details of which remain obscure. Here, we report that six additional caspases (caspases-2, -3, -6, -7, -8, and -10) are processed in cell-free extracts in response to cytochrome c, and that three others (caspases-1, -4, and -5) failed to be activated under the same conditions. In vitro association assays confirmed that caspase-9 selectively bound to Apaf-1, whereas caspases-1, -2, -3, -6, -7, -8, and -10 did not. Depletion of caspase-9 from cell extracts abrogated cytochrome c–inducible activation of caspases-2, -3, -6, -7, -8, and -10, suggesting that caspase-9 is required for all of these downstream caspase activation events. Immunodepletion of caspases-3, -6, and -7 from cell extracts enabled us to order the sequence of caspase activation events downstream of caspase-9 and reveal the presence of a branched caspase cascade. Caspase-3 is required for the activation of four other caspases (-2, -6, -8, and -10) in this pathway and also participates in a feedback amplification loop involving caspase-9.