The assembly of the CD-95 (Fas/Apo-1) receptor death-inducing signaling complex occurs in a hierarchical manner; the death domain of CD-95 binds to the corresponding domain in the adapter molecule Fas-associated death domain (FADD) Mort-1, which in turn recruits the zymogen form of the death protease caspase-8 (FLICE/Mach-1) by a homophilic interaction involving the death effector domains. Immediately after recruitment, the single polypeptide FLICE zymogen is proteolytically processed to the active dimeric species composed of large and small catalytic subunits. Since all caspases cleave their substrates after Asp residues and are themselves processed from the single- chain zymogen to the two-chain active enzyme by cleavage at internal Asp residues, it follows that an upstream caspase can process a downstream zymogen. However, since FLICE represents the most apical caspase in the Fas pathway, its mode of activation has been enigmatic. We hypothesized that the FLICE zymogen possesses intrinsic enzymatic activity such that when approximated, it autoprocesses to the active protease. Support for this was provided by (i) the synthesis of chimeric F(pk)3FLICE molecules that can be oligomerized in vivo by the synthetic cell-permeable dimerizer FK1012H2. Cells transfected with F(pk)3FLICE underwent apoptosis after exposure to FK1012H2; (ii) the creation of a nonprocessable zymogen form of FLICE that retained low but detectable protease activity.
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