From an ancient Greek term related to the “leavening of bread” (en, in; zyme, leaven), an enzyme can be defined as a substance showing the properties of a catalyst that is produced as a result of cellular activity. Every proteinaceous enzyme that performs hydrolysis of peptide bonds is appropriately termed “protease” (peptidase). All of them share aspects of catalytic strategy, but with some variation. As a result, the proteases are grouped into six different catalytic families: serine, threonine, cysteine, aspartic, glutamic and metallopeptidases (http://merops.sanger.ac.uk/). The larger families (cysteine, serine, aspartic and metallopeptidases) have a wide range of distribution on living organism groups, and are also present in the “controversial” viruses. As a well‐represented family, the cysteine proteases play important roles in events such as signalling pathways, programmed cell death (PCD), nutrient mobilization, protein maturing, hormone synthesis and degradation. In the past two decades, an increased interest was driven to the study of the programmed cell death (PCD), mainly after the discovery of caspase‐related proteins and caspase‐like activities in organisms not metazoan. Caspases are cysteine proteases that cleave their substrate after aspartate residues and are part of signalling cascades of the apoptotic PCD process (also in inflammatory process), unique of metazoan. The caspase‐related proteins are named paracaspases and metacaspases. Paracaspases are found on metazoan and Dictyostelium, whereas the metacaspases are present on plants, fungi and groups of protozoan. On plants, PCD has features that are distinct from that of animals and is an important pathway on developmental events, defensive and stress response (biotic and abiotic). All these events have their own particularities, but the participation of proteases seems to be universal with those responsible for caspase‐like activities and metacaspases having an increasing number of reports that put them as important for plant PCD. In this chapter, we tackle important aspects of the proteases, in special that involved in plant PDC, as well as their specific regulators. Aspects of function, catalytic mechanisms and interaction with ligands will be on focus.
Part of the book: Enzyme Inhibitors and Activators