Studies usingDrosophilaas a model system have contributed enormously to our knowledge of caspase function and regulation. Caspases are best known as central executioners of apoptosis but also control essential physiological processes in a non-apoptotic manner. TheDrosophilagenome codes for seven caspases and in this review we provide an overview of current knowledge about caspase function in the nervous system. Caspases regulate neuronal death at all developmental stages and in various neuronal populations. In contrast, non-apoptotic roles are less well understood. The development of new genetically encoded sensors for caspase activity provides unprecedented opportunities to study caspase function in the nervous system in more detail. In light of these new tools we discuss the potential ofDrosophilaas a model to discover new apoptotic and non-apoptotic neuronal roles of caspases.
Caspases are active in the nervous system during all stages of Drosophila development. Often, this caspase activity results in cell death, contributing to shaping of the nervous system. In some cases however, cells survive caspase activity and caspases exert a cell physiological function.