Non-apoptotic caspase activity in neurons Caspases are a family of conserved cysteine proteases that orchestrate apoptotic and pyroptotic cell death. Caspase activity is robustly induced shortly before cell death, and caspase-deficient animals have excess cell numbers. Therefore, activation of caspases is often assumed to represent a commitment point towards cell death. However, mounting evidence indicates that caspases also have non-apoptotic roles in healthy cells and tissues. Mammalian and Drosophila neurons have been reported to use caspases for pruning axonal and dendritic process, which is essential for functional neural networks, potentially by similar mechanisms as apoptosis except spatially restricted. However, fly and mammalian caspases have been implicated in a range of other cellular processes, including cell proliferation and differentiation. Caspase activation has been detected in growing axon terminals, and without evidence of cell death. However, the key unanswered questions remain, including what types of neurons display caspase activity and when. Furthermore, very little is known about the non- apoptotic functions of caspase activity in healthy neurons. A number of different caspase biosensors have been developed to detect caspase activation in neurons and other cell types, however available caspase biosensors are not sufficiently sensitive or sustained to address these questions. Therefore, we developed a new dual color caspase biosensor for Drosophila to detect and study non-apoptotic caspase activity in neurons. We propose to determine which neurons exhibit non-apoptotic caspase, and to establish a role for caspases in normal neuronal function. These studies are needed to gain new insights into the mechanisms that connect the normal versus death functions of caspases, as dysregulation of this balance could contribute importantly to neurodegeneration.
Caspase family proteases can kill cells by apoptosis, but can also have important functions in normal healthy neurons. This balance between normal and death functions may impact neurodegenerative processes. Using a caspase biosensor, we will study the role of caspases in normal neuronal function required for detecting odors in Drosophila.
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