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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Jul;1783(7):1396-405. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2008.01.018. Epub 2008 Feb 7.

Programmed cell death in protists.

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  • Adolf-Butenandt-Institut für Physiologische Chemie, Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich, Germany. marcel.deponte@gmx.de


Programmed cell death in protists does not seem to make sense at first sight. However, apoptotic markers in unicellular organisms have been observed in all but one of the six/eight major groups of eukaryotes suggesting an ancient evolutionary origin of this regulated process. This review summarizes the available data on apoptotic markers in non-opisthokonts and elucidates potential functions and evolution of programmed cell death. A newly discovered family of caspase-like proteases, the metacaspases, is considered to exert the function of caspases in unicellular organisms. Important results on metacaspases, however, showed that they cannot be always correlated to the measured proteolytic activity during protist cell death. Thus, a major challenge for apoptosis research in a variety of protists remains the identification of the molecular cell death machinery.

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