Journal Article

Mastoparan-induced programmed cell death in the unicellular alga <i>Chlamydomonas reinhardtii</i>

Zhenya P. Yordanova, Ernst J. Woltering, Veneta M. Kapchina-Toteva and Elena T. Iakimova

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 111, issue 2, pages 191-205
Published in print February 2013 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online December 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Mastoparan-induced programmed cell death in the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

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Background and Aims

Under stress-promoting conditions unicellular algae can undergo programmed cell death (PCD) but the mechanisms of algal cellular suicide are still poorly understood. In this work, the involvement of caspase-like proteases, DNA cleavage and the morphological occurrence of cell death in wasp venom mastoparan (MP)-treated Chlamydomonas reinhardtii were studied.


Algal cells were exposed to MP and cell death was analysed over time. Specific caspase inhibitors were employed to elucidate the possible role of caspase-like proteases. YVADase activity (presumably a vacuolar processing enzyme) was assayed by using a fluorogenic caspase-1 substrate. DNA breakdown was evaluated by DNA laddering and Comet analysis. Cellular morphology was examined by confocal laser scanning microscopy.

Key Results

MP-treated C. reinhardtii cells expressed several features of necrosis (protoplast shrinkage) and vacuolar cell death (lytic vesicles, vacuolization, empty cell-walled corpse-containing remains of digested protoplast) sometimes within one single cell and in different individual cells. Nucleus compaction and DNA fragmentation were detected. YVADase activity was rapidly stimulated in response to MP but the early cell death was not inhibited by caspase inhibitors. At later time points, however, the caspase inhibitors were effective in cell-death suppression. Conditioned medium from MP-treated cells offered protection against MP-induced cell death.


In C. reinhardtii MP triggered PCD of atypical phenotype comprising features of vacuolar and necrotic cell deaths, reminiscent of the modality of hypersensitive response. It was assumed that depending on the physiological state and sensitivity of the cells to MP, the early cell-death phase might be not mediated by caspase-like enzymes, whereas later cell death may involve caspase-like-dependent proteolysis. The findings substantiate the hypothesis that, depending on the mode of induction and sensitivity of the cells, algal PCD may take different forms and proceed through different pathways.

Keywords: Caspase-like proteases; cell death phenotype; Chlamydomonas reinhardtii; DNA disintegration; mastoparan; programmed cell death; signalling; YVADase

Journal Article.  11061 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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