Caspases are a family of cysteine proteases related to interleukin-1 converting enzyme (ICE) and represent the effector arm of the cell death pathway. The zymogen form of all caspases is composed of a prodomain plus large and small catalytic subunits. Herein we report the characterization of a novel caspase, MICE (for mini-ICE), also designated caspase-14, that possesses an unusually short prodomain and is highly expressed in embryonic tissues but absent from all adult tissues examined. In contrast to the other short prodomain caspases (caspase-3, caspase-6, and caspase-7), MICE preferentially associates with large prodomain caspases, including caspase-1, caspase-2, caspase-4, caspase-8, and caspase-10. Also unlike the other short prodomain caspases, MICE was not processed by multiple death stimuli including activation of members of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family and expression of proapoptotic members of the bcl-2 family. Surprisingly, however, overexpression of MICE itself induced apoptosis in MCF7 human breast cancer cells, which was attenuated by traditional caspase inhibitors.
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