The processes involved in the development of complex multicellular communities, including the programmed elimination of individual cells during the formation of specialized structures, exhibit fundamental similarities between prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. Mechanistic similarities may also exist at the molecular level, as bacterial proteins hypothesized to be related to the apoptosis regulator Bax/Bcl-2 family have been identified, fueling speculation about the existence of bacterial PCD. Here we review the regulatory networks controlling cell death and lysis in Staphylococcus aureus and examine the environmental parameters that might influence them during the development of a biofilm. We hypothesize that the heterogeneous environmental conditions found within a developing biofilm generate distinct physiological signals that coordinate the differential expression of cell death and lysis effectors.
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