, Volume 14, Issue 8, pp 950-960
Date: 03 Jun 2009

Inhibitor of apoptosis proteins in Drosophila: gatekeepers of death

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Abstract

Regulation of apoptosis is crucial to ensure cellular viability, and failure to do so is linked to several human pathologies. The apoptotic cell death programme culminates in the activation of caspases, a family of highly specific cysteine proteases essential for the destruction of the cell. Although best known for their role in executing apoptosis, caspases also play important signalling roles in non-apoptotic processes, such as regulation of actin dynamics, innate immunity, cell proliferation, differentiation and survival. Under such conditions, caspases are activated without killing the cell. Caspase activation and activity is subject to complex regulation, and various cellular and viral inhibitors have been identified that control the activity of caspases in their apoptotic and non-apoptotic roles. Members of the Inhibitor of APoptosis (IAP) protein family ensure cell viability in Drosophila by directly binding to caspases and regulating their activities in a ubiquitin-dependent manner. The observation that IAPs are essential for cell survival in Drosophila, and are frequently deregulated in human cancer, contributing to tumourigenesis, chemoresistance, disease progression and poor patient survival, highlights the importance of this family of caspase regulators in health and disease. Here we summarise recent advances from Drosophila that start to elucidate how the cellular response to caspase activation is modulated by IAPs and their regulators.