In vivo biosensor tracks non-apoptotic caspase activity in Drosophila

Ho Lam Tang, Ho Man Tang, Ming Chiu Fung, J. Marie Hardwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Caspases are the key mediators of apoptotic cell death via their proteolytic activity. When caspases are activated in cells to levels detectable by available technologies, apoptosis is generally assumed to occur shortly thereafter. Caspases can cleave many functional and structural components to cause rapid and complete cell destruction within a few minutes. However, accumulating evidence indicates that in normal healthy cells the same caspases have other functions, presumably at lower enzymatic levels. Studies of non-apoptotic caspase activity have been hampered by difficulties with detecting low levels of caspase activity and with tracking ultimate cell fate in vivo. Here, we illustrate the use of an ultrasensitive caspase reporter, CaspaseTracker, which permanently labels cells that have experienced caspase activity in whole animals. This in vivo dual color CaspaseTracker biosensor for Drosophila melanogaster transiently expresses red fluorescent protein (RFP) to indicate recent or on-going caspase activity, and permanently expresses green fluorescent protein (GFP) in cells that have experienced caspase activity at any time in the past yet did not die. Importantly, this caspase-dependent in vivo biosensor readily reveals the presence of non-apoptotic caspase activity in the tissues of organ systems throughout the adult fly. This is demonstrated using whole mount dissections of individual flies to detect biosensor activity in healthy cells throughout the brain, gut, malpighian tubules, cardia, ovary ducts and other tissues. CaspaseTracker detects non-apoptotic caspase activity in long-lived cells, as biosensor activity is detected in adult neurons and in other tissues at least 10 days after caspase activation. This biosensor serves as an important tool to uncover the roles and molecular mechanisms of non-apoptotic caspase activity in live animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53992
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number117
StatePublished - Nov 27 2016


  • Apoptosis
  • Biosensor
  • Brain
  • Caspase
  • CaspaseTracker
  • Drosophila
  • Issue 117
  • Molecular biology
  • Neurons
  • Non-apoptotic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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