Front. Physiol., 16 April 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00149

New roles for old enzymes: killer caspases as the engine of cell behavior changes

Patrick F. Connolly1, Richard Jäger2 and Howard O. Fearnhead1*
  • 1Pharmacology and Therapeutics, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland
  • 2Department of Natural Sciences, Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, Rheinbach, Germany

It has become increasingly clear that caspases, far from being merely cell death effectors, have a much wider range of functions within the cell. These functions are as diverse as signal transduction and cytoskeletal remodeling, and caspases are now known to have an essential role in cell proliferation, migration, and differentiation. There is also evidence that apoptotic cells themselves can direct the behavior of nearby cells through the caspase-dependent secretion of paracrine signaling factors. In some processes, including the differentiation of skeletal muscle myoblasts, both caspase activation in differentiating cells as well as signaling from apoptotic cells has been reported. Here, we review the non-apoptotic outcomes of caspase activity in a range of different model systems and attempt to integrate this knowledge.

Keywords: caspase, apoptosis, myogenesis, proliferation, differentiation, non-apoptotic roles

Citation: Connolly PF, Jäger R and Fearnhead HO (2014) New roles for old enzymes: killer caspases as the engine of cell behavior changes. Front. Physiol. 5:149. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00149

Received: 17 December 2013; Accepted: 28 March 2014;
Published online: 16 April 2014.

Edited by:

Carlos Hermano J. Pinheiro, University of São Paulo, Brazil

Reviewed by:

Sergio Adamo, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy
Roberta Di Pietro, G. d'annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy

Copyright © 2014 Connolly, Jäger and Fearnhead. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Howard O. Fearnhead, National University of Ireland Galway, Biological Sciences Building, University Road, Galway, Ireland e-mail:

Back to top