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Mol Microbiol. 2002 Apr;44(2):393-401.

Involvement of caspase-3-like protein in rapid cell death of Xanthomonas.

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Food Technology Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai 400 085, India.


Xanthomonas campestris pv. glycines strain AM2 (XcgAM2), the aetiological agent of bacterial pustule disease of soybean, as well as some other strains of Xanthomonas including X. campestris pv. malvacearum NCIM 2310 and X. campestris NCIM 2961, exhibited post-exponential rapid cell death (RCD) in Luria-Bertani (LB) medium. RCD was not displayed by Xanthomonas strains while growing in starch medium. Addition of starch to LB culture of XcgAM2 at any point of incubation during the exponential growth was found to arrest the onset of RCD. RCD in this organism was found to be associated with the synthesis of an endogenous enzyme similar to human caspase-3, a known marker of apoptosis in eukaryotes. On sodium dodecyl sulphate polyacrylamide gel elecrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) the XcgAM2 caspase appeared to run along a 55 kDa protein molecular weight marker. The caspase-3-like protein was detected in all Xanthomonas strains tested. RCD was not detected in Escherichia coli cultures in LB medium. The caspase-3-like enzyme activity or pro-tein was also found to be absent in this bacterium. Caspase-3-like protein or Xanthomonas caspase was detected only in the cells of XcgAM2 growing in LB medium and not in those growing in starch medium. The Xanthomonas caspase protein appeared in cells at around 4 h of incubation, and peaked at around 24 h, before finally disappearing at around 54 h of incubation. However, caspase enzyme activity was detected only 12-13 h after incubation and peaked around 18-20 h. Addition of starch at the beginning or during the period of exponential growth in LB cultures of XcgAM2 terminated the synthesis of this protein. It is presumed that starch acted as the repressor of biosynthesis of the Xanthomonas caspase, thereby preventing the organism from undergoing RCD. The cells undergoing RCD also displayed the other markers of eukaryotic apoptosis. These included binding of annexin V to plasma membrane of cells undergoing RCD and the presence of nicked DNA in culture supernatant as evidenced by the TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labelling) assay. Caspase-negative mutants of XcgAM2 did not display post-exponential RCD. The importance of RCD in Xanthomonas life cycle is not yet clear, however the phenomenon appears to have similarities with eukaryotic apoptosis.

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