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The balance of pro-apoptotic and pro-survival proteins defines a cell's fate. These processes are controlled through an interdependent and finely tuned protein network that enables survival or leads to apoptotic cell death. The caspase family of proteases is central to this apoptotic network, with initiator and executioner caspases, and their interaction partners, regulating and executing apoptosis. In this work, we interrogate and modulate this network by exogenously introducing specific initiator or executioner caspase proteins. Each caspase is exogenously introduced using redox-responsive polymeric nanogels. Although caspase-3 might be expected to be the most effective due to the centrality of its role in apoptosis and its heightened catalytic efficiency relative to other family members, we observed that caspase-7 and caspase-9 are the most effective at inducing apoptotic cell death. By critically analyzing the introduced activity of the delivered caspase, the pattern of substrate cleavage, as well as the ability to activate endogenous caspases, we conclude that the efficacy of each caspase correlated with the levels of pro-survival factors that both directly and indirectly impact the introduced caspase. These findings lay the groundwork for developing methods for exogenous introduction of caspases as a therapeutic option that can be tuned to the apoptotic balance in a proliferating cell.
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Anson, Francesca; Thayumanavan, S; and Hardy, Jeanne A., "Exogenous Introduction of Initiator and Executioner Caspases Results in Different Apoptotic Outcomes" (2021). JACS. 1484.