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Annu Rev Phytopathol. 1998;36:393-414.

Programmed cell death in plant disease: the purpose and promise of cellular suicide.

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Department of Plant Pathology and the NSF Center for Engineering Plants for Resistance Against Pathogens, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


The interaction of pathogens with plants leads to a disruption in cellular homeostasis, often leading to cell death, in both compatible and incompatible relationships. The mechanistic basis of this cellular disruption and consequent death is complex and poorly characterized, but it is established that host responses to pathogens are dependent on gene expression, involve signal transduction, and require energy. Recent data suggest that in animals, a genetically regulated, signal transduction-dependent programmed cell death process, commonly referred to as apoptosis, is conserved over a wide range of phyla. The basic function of apoptosis is to direct the selective elimination of certain cells during development, but it also is a master template that is involved in host responses to many pathogens. Programmed cell death in plants, while widely observed, has not been studied extensively at either the biochemical or genetic level. Current data suggest that activation or suppression of programmed cell death may underlie diseases in plants as it does in animals. This review describes some of the fundamental characteristics of apoptosis in animals and points to a number of connections to programmed cell death in plants that may lead to both a better understanding of disease processes and novel strategies for engineering disease resistance in plants.

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