Evolution and structural diversity of metacaspases
J Exp Bot. 2019, 70(7): 2039-2047
Klemenčič M, Funk C

Caspases are metazoan proteases, best known for their involvement in programmed cell death in animals. In higher plants genetically controlled mechanisms leading to the selective death of individual cells also involve the regulated interplay of various types of proteases. Some of these enzymes are structurally homologous to caspases and have therefore been termed metacaspases. In addition to the two well-studied metacaspase variants found in higher plants, type I and type II, biochemical data have recently become available for metacaspases of type III and metacaspase-like proteases, which are present only in certain algae. Although increasing in vitro and in vivo data suggest the existence of further sub-types, a lack of structural information hampers the interpretation of their distinct functional properties. However, the identification of key amino acid residues involved in the proteolytic mechanism of metacaspases, as well as the increased availability of plant genomic and transcriptomic data, is increasingly enabling in-depth analysis of all metacaspase types found in plastid-containing organisms. Here, we review the structural distribution and diversification of metacaspases and in doing so try to provide comprehensive guidelines for further analyses of this versatile family of proteases in organisms ranging from simple unicellular species to flowering plants.

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