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#116657 - 11/26/03 01:02 PM etymology of "caspase"
Alex Williams Offline

Registered: 01/05/01
Posts: 1814
Loc: Spam Factory
I am doing a presentation at work on apoptosis, a process of programmed cell death. Various enzymes and molecules are involved in the the many processes of apoptosis, but one family of enzymes that plays a central role are the caspases. I was wondering if this word has any particular etymology, although it may have none as many scientific words are, sadly, jargon devoid of etymology. I have been unable to unearth the meaning myself and I beg your assistance. TIA.

#116658 - 11/26/03 01:33 PM Re: etymology of "caspase"
wwh Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 01/18/01
Posts: 13858
Dear Alex, to show my command of the obvious, most enzymes end in "-ase", so only problem is where does the 'casp-" come from. Trouble is that could be a sort of acronym for GOK (God only knows what). Nobody on the board has your background for figuring this one out. (doc_comfort hasn't posted for a long time, and wofahulicodoc surely can't find the time to read about cell biology).

Here's a URL about it, all Greek to me:

Only eager beavers will want to look at the above URL, and they know how to copy and paste it into Address box
Here's another URL, maybe a few clues

#116659 - 11/26/03 04:00 PM caspase < capsase?
Jenet Offline

Registered: 11/22/03
Posts: 81
A few chemical names are arbitrary rearrangements of other names. One example is ribose < arabinose < gum arabic. (Trivia: did you know DNA and RNA are derived from the name Arab?)

As casp- isn't a Latin root perhaps caspase is from alteration of capsase, something that alters the capsid (protein coat, < capsa, a container)?

#116660 - 11/26/03 04:07 PM Re: caspase < capsase?
AnnaStrophic Offline
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Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 6511
Loc: lower upstate New York
Interesting, Jenet. Any connection, I wonder, to capsaicin?

#116661 - 11/26/03 05:52 PM Re: caspase < capsase?
Jenet Offline

Registered: 11/22/03
Posts: 81
Um, my dictionary says capsicum (> capsaicin) might be from capsa, i.e. because the pepper is in a case or capsule.

Hm, Perseus Lewis & Short doesn't list capsa -- must be Late Latin -- they have capsus (i) wagon-body or coach-body, or (ii) pen, enclosure; and capsella a small box or coffer.

I just thought the caps- idea was possible, because breaking down capsids could well be akin to whatever is needed to break up cells in apoptosis.

#116662 - 11/26/03 10:59 PM Re: etymology of "caspase"
maahey Offline

Registered: 12/03/02
Posts: 555
Alex, off the top of my head, it seems to me that Caspase could be named for the specific cleaving pattern at the Aspartate (Asp). Don't think I have read this anywhere though; just came to me as a possibility since you asked. The 'c' might be short for cytoplasmic or is it cysteine? You could check with the Biochem/Cell Biology folk. As regards etymology, I have always thought that whoever names enzymes, tries hard to make them memory-friendly. Etymologically, they invariably can be traced back to the specific biochemical reaction they catalyse. At least all the names that are rushing through my head seem to - phosphorylase, reductase, transferase, ligase, carboxylase...all have rather strong etymological clues don't they? Hope this helps.

did you know DNA and RNA are derived from the name Arab?)
Hi Jenet! First time I am hearing of this; always thought of it as a simple deoxyribonucleic acid. Do tell us more; am very curious.

#116663 - 11/27/03 03:26 AM Re: etymology of "caspase"
Jenet Offline

Registered: 11/22/03
Posts: 81
Already given most of it: but the ribo- of words like ribonucleic is from a sugar ribose, which is said to be (if Chambers is to be trusted on this) an alteration of arabinose, which is a sugar that comes from arabin, the essential substance of gum arabic.

#116664 - 11/27/03 10:04 AM ribose/gum arabic
of troy Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 10/17/00
Posts: 5400
Loc: rego park
Jenet, that is great! gum arabic is one of those 'things' that i know about, (its a common ingredient in many confections, and i have even seen it listed as an ingredient to add to foods{ie, in a recipe}, but i have never seen it for sale!)

isn't it wonderful how words turn and turn again, and reappear in all sorts of wonderful ways!

what a wonderful food/chemistry word to learn... thank you!

my other obsession

#116665 - 11/28/03 05:47 AM Re: etymology of "caspase"
rav Offline

Registered: 12/07/02
Posts: 122
Loc: Poland, Cracow
'caspase' means 'cysteine aspartase'. now, the question is where the 'asparta-' comes from

#116666 - 11/28/03 08:02 AM Re: etymology of "caspase"
Faldage Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
where the 'asparta-' comes from


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