A cellular suicide strategy of plants: vacuole-mediated cell death

Apoptosis. 2006 Jun;11(6):905-11. doi: 10.1007/s10495-006-6601-1.


Programmed cell death (PCD) occurs in animals and plants under various stresses and during development. Recently, vacuolar processing enzyme (VPE) was identified as an executioner of plant PCD. VPE is a cysteine protease that cleaves a peptide bond at the C-terminal side of asparagine and aspartic acid. VPE exhibited enzymatic properties similar to that of a caspase, which is a cysteine protease that mediates the PCD pathway in animals, although there is limited sequence identity between the two enzymes. VPE and caspase-1 share several structural properties: the catalytic dyads and three amino acids forming the substrate pockets (Asp pocket) are conserved between VPE and caspase-1. In contrast to such similarities, subcellular localizations of these proteases are completely different from each other. VPE is localized in the vacuoles, while caspases are localized in the cytosol. VPE functions as a key molecule of plant PCD through disrupting the vacuole in pathogenesis and development. Cell death triggered by vacuolar collapse is unique to plants and has not been seen in animals. Plants might have evolved a VPE-mediated vacuolar system as a cellular suicide strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plant Cells*
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena*
  • Vacuoles / physiology*