Selective induction of programmed cell death using synthetic biology tools

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2024 Mar 15:156:74-92. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2023.07.012. Epub 2023 Aug 17.


Regulated cell death (RCD) controls the removal of dispensable, infected or malignant cells, and is thus essential for development, homeostasis and immunity of multicellular organisms. Over the last years different forms of RCD have been described (among them apoptosis, necroptosis, pyroptosis and ferroptosis), and the cellular signaling pathways that control their induction and execution have been characterized at the molecular level. It has also become apparent that different forms of RCD differ in their capacity to elicit inflammation or an immune response, and that RCD pathways show a remarkable plasticity. Biochemical and genetic studies revealed that inhibition of a given pathway often results in the activation of back-up cell death mechanisms, highlighting close interconnectivity based on shared signaling components and the assembly of multivalent signaling platforms that can initiate different forms of RCD. Due to this interconnectivity and the pleiotropic effects of 'classical' cell death inducers, it is challenging to study RCD pathways in isolation. This has led to the development of tools based on synthetic biology that allow the targeted induction of RCD using chemogenetic or optogenetic methods. Here we discuss recent advances in the development of such toolset, highlighting their advantages and limitations, and their application for the study of RCD in cells and animals.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Chemogenetics; Ferroptosis; Inflammasomes; Necroptosis; Optogenetics; Programmed cell death; Pyroptosis; Synthetic biology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis* / physiology
  • Cell Death
  • Pyroptosis / genetics
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synthetic Biology*