During apoptosis, initiator caspases (8, 9 and 10) activate downstream executioner caspases (3, 6 and 7) by cleaving the IDC (interdomain connector) at two sites. Here, we demonstrate that both activation sites, site 1 and site 2, of caspase 7 are suboptimal for activation by initiator caspases 8 and 9 in cellulo, and in vitro using recombinant proteins and activation kinetics. Indeed, when both sites are replaced with the preferred motifs recognized by either caspase 8 or 9, we found an up to 36-fold improvement in activation. Moreover, cleavage at site 1 is preferred to site 2 because of its location within the IDC, since swapping sites does not lead to a more efficient activation. We also demonstrate the important role of Ile195 of site 1 involved in maintaining a network of contacts that preserves the proper conformation of the active enzyme. Finally, we show that the length of the IDC plays a crucial role in maintaining the necessity of proteolysis for activation. In fact, although we were unable to generate a caspase 7 that does not require proteolysis for activity, shortening the IDC of the initiator caspase 8 by four residues was sufficient to confer a requirement for proteolysis, a key feature of executioner caspases. Altogether, the results demonstrate the critical role of the primary structure of caspase 7's IDC for its activation and proteolytic activity.

You do not currently have access to this content.