Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Biology and BioMed Central.

Journal App

google play app store
Open Access Open Badges Research article

The conservation and uniqueness of the caspase family in the basal chordate, amphioxus

Liqun Xu, Shaochun Yuan, Jun Li, Jie Ruan, Shengfeng Huang, Manyi Yang, Huiqing Huang, Shangwu Chen, Zhenghua Ren and Anlong Xu*

Author affiliations

State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, National Engineering Research Center of South China Sea Marine Biotechnology, Department of Biochemistry, College of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, 135 West Xingang Road, Guangzhou, 510275, PR China

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Biology 2011, 9:60  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-9-60

Published: 21 September 2011



The caspase family, which plays a central role in apoptosis in metazoans, has undergone an expansion in amphioxus, increasing to 45 members through domain recombination and shuffling.


In order to shed light on the conservation and uniqueness of this family in amphioxus, we cloned three representative caspase genes, designated as bbtCaspase-8, bbtCaspase-1/2 and bbtCaspase3-like, from the amphioxus Branchiostoma belcheri tsingtauense. We found that bbtCaspase-8 with conserved protein architecture is involved in the Fas-associated death domain-Caspase-8 mediated pro-apoptotic extrinsic pathway, while bbtCaspase3-like may mediate a nuclear apoptotic pathway in amphioxus. Also, bbtCaspase-1/2 can co-localize with bbtFADD2 in the nucleus, and be recruited to the cytoplasm by amphioxus apoptosis associated speck-like proteins containing a caspase recruitment domain, indicating that bbtCaspase-1/2 may serve as a switch between apoptosis and caspase-dependent innate immune response in invertebrates. Finally, amphioxus extrinsic apoptotic pathway related caspases played important roles in early embryogenesis.


Our study not only demonstrates the conservation of bbtCaspase-8 in apoptosis, but also reveals the unique features of several amphioxus caspases with novel domain architectures arose some 500 million years ago.