Caspase 1 is a cysteinyl aspartate-specific proteinase involved in the maturation of inflammatory cytokines such as pro-IL-1β (interleukin-1β) and pro-IL-18. Caspase 1 clusters phylogenetically together with human caspases 4, 5 and 12 and murine caspases 11 and 12, and forms the group of the so-called inflammatory caspases. Caspase 1 consists of an N-terminal CARD (caspase recruitment domain) and a proteolytic domain containing the catalytic residues. The CARD-containing prodomain is involved in the formation of the protease-activating inflammasome complex. We have also found that the prodomain is necessary and sufficient for the activation of NF-κB (nuclear factor κB). The human genome also contains three caspase-1-related CARD-only decoy proteins [COP (CARD-only protein), INCA (inhibitory CARD) and ICEBERG], which are located near the caspase 1 locus. In this mini-review, we focus on the evolutionary aspects of the inflammatory caspase locus in the human, chimpanzee, Rhesus monkey, mouse and rat. Furthermore, we discuss the functional characteristics of the caspase-1-related CARD-only proteins in relation to caspase-1-mediated IL-1β maturation and NF-κB activation.

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