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Members of the membrane attack complex/perforin-like (MACPF) protein superfamily have long captured interest because of their unique ability to assemble into large oligomeric pores on the surfaces of cells. The best characterised of these act in vertebrate immunity where they function to deliver pro-apoptotic factors or induce the cytolysis and death of targeted cells. Less appreciated, however, is that rather than causing cell death, MACPF proteins have also evolved to control cellular signalling pathways and influence developmental programmes such as pattern formation and neurogenesis. Torso-like (Tsl) from the fruit fly Drosophila, for example, functions to localise the activity of a growth factor for patterning its embryonic termini. It remains unclear whether these developmental proteins employ an attenuated form of the classical MACPF lytic pore, or if they have evolved to function via alternative mechanisms of action. In this minireview, we examine the evidence that links pore-forming MACPF proteins to the control of growth factor and cytokine signalling. We will then attempt to reconcile how the MACPF domain may have been repurposed during evolution for developmental events rather than cell killing.
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