Apoptosis and autophagy: Regulation of caspase-9 by phosphorylation

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Cell death by the process of apoptosis plays important roles in development, tissue homeostasis, diseases and drug responses. The cysteine aspartyl protease caspase-9 plays a central role in the mitochondrial or intrinsic apoptotic pathway that is engaged in response to many apoptotic stimuli. Caspase-9 is activated in a large multimeric complex, the apoptosome, which is formed with apoptotic peptidase activating factor 1 (Apaf-1) in response to the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria. Once activated, caspase-9 cleaves and activates the effector caspases 3 and 7 to bring about apoptosis. This pathway is tightly regulated at multiple steps, including apoptosome formation and caspase-9 activation. Recent work has shown that caspase-9 is the direct target for regulatory phosphorylation by multiple protein kinases activated in response to extracellular growth/survival factors, osmotic stress or during mitosis. Here, we review these advances and discuss the possible roles of caspase-9 phosphorylation in the regulation of apoptosis during development and in pathological states, including cancer.

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