Proteolytic signaling by TNFα: caspase activation and IκB degradation

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Following binding its death receptor on the plasma membrane, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) induces the receptor trimerization and recruits a number of death domain-containing molecules to form the receptor complex. The complex promotes activation of downstream caspase cascade and induces degradation of IκBα. Caspases are activated using mechanisms of oligomeration and ‘self-controlled proteolysis’. According to their structures and functions, apoptosis related caspases can be divided into upstream and downstream caspases. In general, upstream caspases cleave and activate downstream caspases by proteolysis of the Asp-X site. Activated caspases then cleaved target substrates. To date, more than 70 proteins have been identified to be substrates of caspases in mammalian cells. Caspases can alter the function of their target proteins by destroying structural components of the cytoskeleton and nuclear scaffold or by removing their regulatory domains. Activation of NF-κB is dependent on the degradation of IκBα. IκB kinase (IKK) phosphorylates IκBα at the residues 32 and 36 followed by polyubiquitination at lysine 21 and 22 and subsequent degradation of the molecules by 26S proteasome. There is extensive crosstalk between the apoptotic and NF-κB signaling pathways that emanate from TNF-R1. On the one hand, activation of NF-κB can inactivate caspases; on the other hand, activated caspases can inhibit the activation of NF-κB. Both processes involve in proteolysis. This crosstalk may be important for maintaining the balance between the two pathways and for determining whether a cell should live or die.

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