Researchers discover a family of proteins in humans that can reduce the death of cells.

A family of mammalian proteins is identified that resemble the Inhibitor of Apoptosis (IAP) proteins initially found in viruses that infect insect cells.

Some of the mammalian IAPs are able to interact with proteins that regulate tumor necrosis factor (TNF) signaling, and some can reduce the amount of cell death caused by over-expression of certain caspases, the cell death effector proteases.

Dr Anthony Uren, Professor David Vaux and colleagues search human genes, looking for those with patterns similar to the IAPs found in the baculovirus that attacks insects. They discover three IAPs conserved across mammals, and show through cloning that they play a role in preventing apoptosis.

New class of anti-death proteins

Vaux’s 1988 discovery of Bcl-2 as a pro-survival protein was the catalyst for a new branch of research into cell signalling and cell death. Uren and Vaux’s investigation into IAPs in mammals establishes another group of cell death proteins that act on different parts of the signalling pathway to Bcl-2 proteins.

This work enables later discoveries surrounding IAPs, including an IAP inhibitor called DIABLO/Smac in 2000.

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