Crystal structure of a Trypanosoma brucei metacaspase

Karen McLuskey, Jana Rudolf, William R Proto, Neil W Isaacs, Graham H Coombs, Catherine X Moss, Jeremy C Mottram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Metacaspases are distantly related caspase-family cysteine peptidases implicated in programmed cell death in plants and lower eukaryotes. They differ significantly from caspases because they are calcium-activated, arginine-specific peptidases that do not require processing or dimerization for activity. To elucidate the basis of these differences and to determine the impact they might have on the control of cell death pathways in lower eukaryotes, the previously undescribed crystal structure of a metacaspase, an inactive mutant of metacaspase 2 (MCA2) from Trypanosoma brucei, has been determined to a resolution of 1.4 Å. The structure comprises a core caspase fold, but with an unusual eight-stranded β-sheet that stabilizes the protein as a monomer. Essential aspartic acid residues, in the predicted S1 binding pocket, delineate the arginine-specific substrate specificity. In addition, MCA2 possesses an unusual N terminus, which encircles the protein and traverses the catalytic dyad, with Y31 acting as a gatekeeper residue. The calcium-binding site is defined by samarium coordinated by four aspartic acid residues, whereas calcium binding itself induces an allosteric conformational change that could stabilize the active site in a fashion analogous to subunit processing in caspases. Collectively, these data give insights into the mechanistic basis of substrate specificity and mode of activation of MCA2 and provide a detailed framework for understanding the role of metacaspases in cell death pathways of lower eukaryotes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7469-7474
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2012


  • apoptosis
  • clan CD
  • parasite
  • X-ray crystallography


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