In Caenorhabditis elegans, apoptosis in germ cells is mediated by the same core apoptotic machinery that controls apoptosis in somatic cells. These include the CED-3 caspase, the CED-3 activator CED-4, and the cell death inhibitor CED-9. However, germline apoptosis also differs from somatic apoptosis in its regulation. We found that CSP-3, a caspase homolog that blocks CED-3 autoactivation and apoptosis in somatic cells, does not affect apoptosis in germ cells. Interestingly, the second C. elegans caspase homolog, CSP-2, shares sequence similarity to both catalytic subunits of the CED-3 caspase, and surprisingly, contains a stretch of sequence that is almost identical to that of CSP-3. Unlike CSP-3 that acts specifically in somatic cells, loss of CSP-2 causes increased apoptosis only in germ cells, suggesting that CSP-2 is a germ cell-specific apoptosis inhibitor. Moreover, like CSP-3, CSP-2 associates with the CED-3 zymogen and inhibits its autoactivation, but does not inhibit CED-4-induced CED-3 activation or the activity of the activated CED-3 protease. Thus, two different C. elegans caspase homologs use the same mechanism to prevent caspase autoactivation and apoptosis in different tissues, suggesting that this could be a generally applicable strategy for regulating caspase activation and apoptosis.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology