Caspase-2 protects against ferroptotic cell death

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Caspase-2, one of the most evolutionarily conserved member of the caspase family, is an important regulator of the cellular response to oxidative stress. Given that ferroptosis is suppressed by antioxidant defense pathways, such as that involving selenoenzyme glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4), we hypothesised that caspase-2 may play a role in regulating ferroptosis. This study provides the first demonstration of an important and unprecedented function of caspase-2 in protecting cancer cells from undergoing ferroptotic cell death. Specifically, we show that depletion of caspase-2 leads to downregulation of stress response genes including SESN2, HMOX1, SLC7A11 and sensitises mutant-p53 cancer cells to cell death induced by various ferroptosis inducing compounds. Importantly, the canonical catalytic activity of caspase-2 is not required for its role and suggests that caspase-2 regulates ferroptosis via non-proteolytic interaction with other proteins. Using an unbiased BioID proteomics screen, we identified novel caspase-2 interacting proteins (including heat shock proteins and co-chaperones) that regulate cellular responses to stress. Finally, we demonstrate that caspase-2 limits chaperone mediated autophagic degradation of GPX4 to promote survival of mutant-p53 cancer cells. In conclusion, we document a novel role for caspase-2 as a negative regulator of ferroptosis in cells with mutant-p53. Our results provide evidence for a novel function of caspase-2 functions in cell death regulation and open potential new avenues to exploit ferroptosis in cancer therapy.

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