Parthanatos: mitochondrial-linked mechanisms and therapeutic opportunities

Br J Pharmacol. 2014 Apr;171(8):2000-16. doi: 10.1111/bph.12416.


Cells die by a variety of mechanisms. Terminally differentiated cells such as neurones die in a variety of disorders, in part, via parthanatos, a process dependent on the activity of poly (ADP-ribose)-polymerase (PARP). Parthanatos does not require the mediation of caspases for its execution, but is clearly mechanistically dependent on the nuclear translocation of the mitochondrial-associated apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF). The nuclear translocation of this otherwise beneficial mitochondrial protein, occasioned by poly (ADP-ribose) (PAR) produced through PARP overactivation, causes large-scale DNA fragmentation and chromatin condensation, leading to cell death. This review describes the multistep course of parthanatos and its dependence on PAR signalling and nuclear AIF translocation. The review also discusses potential targets in the parthanatos cascade as promising avenues for the development of novel, disease-modifying, therapeutic agents.

Keywords: AIF; PARP-1; cell death; mitochondria; parthanatos; therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / physiology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis Inducing Factor / metabolism
  • Apoptosis Inducing Factor / physiology*
  • Cell Death / physiology*
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Glycoside Hydrolases / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose / metabolism
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose / physiology*
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / physiology*


  • Apoptosis Inducing Factor
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose
  • PARP1 protein, human
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • Glycoside Hydrolases
  • poly ADP-ribose glycohydrolase