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Integr Comp Biol. 2005 Aug;45(4):631-8. doi: 10.1093/icb/45.4.631.

Hydra and the evolution of apoptosis.

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Department Biologie II, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany.


Programmed cell death occurs in most, if not all life forms. It is used to sculpt tissue during embryogenesis, to remove damaged cells, to protect against pathogen infection and to regulate cell numbers and tissue homeostasis. In animals cell death often occurs by a morphologically and biochemically conserved process called apoptosis. A novel group of cysteine proteases, referred to as caspases, constitute the central component of this process. Caspases are activated following the induction of apoptosis and cleave a variety of cellular substrates, thus giving rise to the characteristic morphological events of apoptosis. Apoptosis is rapid and cell corpses are removed by phagocytosis. Recent work has shown that apoptosis also occurs in Cnidaria and Porifera, thus extending the origin of this evolutionary innovation down to the first metazoan animal phyla. Here, we review several examples of the role of apoptosis in cnidarians and then summarize new results on the subcellular localization of caspases and the control of apoptosis in Hydra. We show by immuncytochemistry that caspases in Hydra are localized in mitochondria. Following induction of apoptosis caspases are released from mitochondria as proenzymes and then activated by proteolytic cleavage in the cytoplasm. We also present evidence that apoptosis in Hydra is dramatically stimulated by inhibitors of PI3-kinase. Since PI3-kinase is a central component of growth factor signaling cascades in higher metazoans, this result suggests that control of apoptosis by growth factors is also evolutionarily conserved. We speculate on the role of growth factors in the evolution of apoptosis.


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