Caspase-like activity in programmed nuclear death during conjugation of Tetrahymena thermophila

Cell Death Differ. 2003 Jun;10(6):634-40. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4401216.


Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is common in a variety of eucaryotes, from unicellular protozoa to vertebrates. The ciliated protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila has a unique apoptosis-like nuclear death during conjugation, called programmed nuclear death. This death program involves nuclear condensation (pyknosis) and oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation in the parental macronucleus. Subsequently, the condensed nucleus is entirely resorbed in the autophagosome. Here we demonstrate that caspase-8- and -9-like activity was detected, but no caspase-3-like activity, by in vitro assay during the nuclear resorption process, suggesting that caspase-like activity is associated with both programmed cell death and apoptosis-like nuclear death in Tetrahymena. The use of indicator dye to detect the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential suggested the uptake of mitochondria and the degenerating macronucleus by the autophagosome. An involvement of mitochondria in the programmed nuclear death is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / genetics*
  • Autophagy / genetics
  • Caspase 8
  • Caspase 9
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Nucleus / enzymology*
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Conjugation, Genetic / genetics*
  • DNA Fragmentation / genetics
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Tetrahymena / cytology
  • Tetrahymena / enzymology*
  • Tetrahymena / genetics


  • Caspase 8
  • Caspase 9
  • Caspases