Inhibitor of apoptosis (IAP) proteins are involved in the suppression of apoptosis, signal transduction, cell cycle control and gene regulation. Here we describe the cloning and characterization of viral IAP-associated factor (VIAF), a highly conserved, ubiquitously expressed phosphoprotein with limited homology to members of the phosducin family that associates with baculovirus Op-IAP. VIAF bound Op-IAP both in vitro and in intact cells, with each protein displaying a pre-dominantly cytoplasmic localization. VIAF lacks a consensus IAP binding motif, and overespression of VIAF failed to prevent Op-IAP from protecting human cells from a variety of apoptotic stimuli, suggesting that VIAF does not function as an IAP antagonist. VIAF was unable to directly inhibit caspase activation in vitro and a reduction of VIAF protein levels by RNA interference led to a decrease in Bax-mediated caspase activation, suggesting that VIAF functions to co-regulate the apoptotic cascade. Finally, VIAF is a substrate for ubiquitination mediated by Op-IAP. Thus, VIAF is a novel IAP-interacting factor that functions in caspase activation during apoptosis.
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