We report here the purification of the third protein factor, Apaf-3, that participates in caspase-3 activation in vitro. Apaf-3 was identified as a member of the caspase family, caspase-9. Caspase-9 and Apaf-1 bind to each other via their respective NH2-terminal CED-3 homologous domains in the presence of cytochrome c and dATP, an event that leads to caspase-9 activation. Activated caspase-9 in turn cleaves and activates caspase-3. Depletion of caspase-9 from S-100 extracts diminished caspase-3 activation. Mutation of the active site of caspase-9 attenuated the activation of caspase-3 and cellular apoptotic response in vivo, indicating that caspase-9 is the most upstream member of the apoptotic protease cascade that is triggered by cytochrome c and dATP.
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