Parthanatos, a messenger of death

Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2009 Jan 1;14:1116-28. doi: 10.2741/3297.


Poly-ADP-ribose polymerase-1 (PARP-1)'s roles in the cell span from maintaining life to inducing death. The processes PARP-1 is involved in include DNA repair, DNA transcription, mitosis, and cell death. Of PARP-1's different cellular functions, its role in cell death is of particular interest to designing therapies for diseases. Genetic deletion of PARP-1 revealed that PARP-1 overactivation underlies cell death in models of stroke, diabetes, inflammation and neurodegeneration. Since interfering with PARP-1 mediated cell death will be clinically beneficial, great effort has been invested into understanding mechanisms downstream of PARP-1 overactivation. Recent evidence shows that poly-ADP ribose (PAR) polymer itself can act as a cell death effector downstream of PARP-1. We coined the term parthanatos after Thanatos, the personification of death in Greek mythology, to refer to PAR-mediated cell death. In this review, we will present evidence and questions raised by these recent findings, and summarize the proposed mechanisms by which PARP-1 overactivation kills. It is evident that further understanding of parthanatos opens up new avenues for therapy in ameliorating diseases related to PARP-1 overactivation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / physiology*


  • PARP1 protein, human
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases