Role of caspase-8 in thymus function

N. Pozzesi, A. Fierabracci, A. M. Liberati, M. P. Martelli, E. Ayroldi, C. Riccardi, D. V. Delfino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The thymus is the primary organ responsible for de novo generation of immunocompetent T cells that have a diverse repertoire of antigen recognition. During the developmental process, 98% of thymocytes die by apoptosis. Thus apoptosis is a dominant process in the thymus and occurs through either death by neglect or negative selection or through induction by stress/aging. Caspase activation is an essential part of the general apoptosis mechanism, and data suggest that caspases may have a role in negative selection; however, it seems more probable that caspase-8 activation is involved in death by neglect, particularly in glucocorticoid-induced thymocyte apoptosis. Caspase-8 is active in double-positive (DP) thymocytes in vivo and can be activated in vitro in DP thymocytes by T-cell receptor (TCR) crosslinking to induce apoptosis. Caspase-8 is a proapoptotic member of the caspase family and is considered an initiator caspase, which is activated upon stimulation of a death receptor (e.g., Fas), recruitment of the adaptor molecule FADD, and recruitment and subsequent processing of procaspase-8. The main role of caspase-8 seems to be pro-apoptotic and, in this review, we will discuss about the involvement of caspase-8 in (1) TCR-triggered thymic apoptosis; (2) death receptor-mediated thymic apoptosis; and (3) glucocorticoid-induced thymic apoptosis. Regarding TCR triggering, caspase-8 is active in medullary, semi-mature heat-stable antigen hi (HAS hi SP) thymocytes as a consequence of strong TCR stimulation. The death receptors Fas, FADD, and FLIP are involved upstream of caspase-8 activation in apoptosis; whereas, Bid and HDAC7 are involved downstream of caspase-8. Finally, caspase-8 is involved in glucocortocoid-induced thymocyte apoptosis through an activation loop with the protein GILZ. GILZ activates caspase-8, promoting GILZ sumoylation and its protection from proteasomal degradation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-233
Number of pages8
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • apoptosis
  • caspase-8
  • glucocorticoids
  • negative selection
  • thymus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Medicine(all)


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