Signals emanating from receptors of the tumor necrosis factor/nerve growth factor (TNF/NGF) family control practically all aspects of immune defense and, as such, constitute potential targets for therapeutic intervention through rational drug design. Indeed, arrest of these signals by blocking ligand–receptor interactions enables effective suppression of a variety of activities that are implicated in various pathologies, such as T and B lymphocyte activation and growth, inflammation, fibroblast proliferation, and cell death. To be therapeutically useful, however, inhibition of signaling should be restricted by determinants of specificity, at least to the same degree observed when blocking activation of individual receptors. In spite of their broad range of functions, receptors of the TNF/NGF family are known to activate just a few signaling pathways. Of these, the most extensively studied are the activation of the caspase protease cascade, which leads to cell death, and the activation of NF-κB (nuclear factor-κB) transcription factors through protein phosphorylation cascades. Until recently, most studies of the two pathways have solely focused on the core signaling complexes that are shared by the different receptors: death-inducing complexes containing the cysteine proteases caspase-8 and caspase-10, bound to the adapter protein MORT1/FADD (mediator of receptor-induced toxicity/Fas-associated DD protein), and the NF-κB-activating complex, composed of the protein kinases IKK1 (IκB kinase 1) and IKK2 (IκB kinase 2) and the regulatory subunit NEMO (NF-κB essential modulator; the 'IKK signalosome'). Knowledge has begun to emerge of additional molecules and mechanisms that affect these basic signaling complexes and impose specificity on their function.
Keywords: apoptosis, caspase, NF-κB, signaling, tumor necrosis factor