Apparent caspase independence of programmed cell death in Dictyostelium

Curr Biol. 1998 Aug 27;8(17):955-8. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(98)70395-1.


During normal development, cell elimination [1,2] occurs by programmed cell death (PCD) [3], of which apoptosis [4] is the best known morphological type. Activation of cysteine proteases termed caspases [5] is required in many instances of animal PCD [6-9], but its role outside the animal kingdom is as yet unknown. PCD occurs during developmental stages in the slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum [10,11]. Under favorable conditions, Dictyostelium multiplies as a unicellular organism. Upon starvation, a pathway involving aggregation, differentiation and morphogenesis induces the formation of a multicellular fungus-like structure called a sorocarp [12], consisting mainly of spores and stalk cells, the latter being a result of cell death. Dictyostelium cell death is similar to classical apoptosis in that some cytoplasmic and chromatin condensation occurs but differs from apoptosis because it involves massive vacuolisation and, interestingly, lacks DNA fragmentation [11]. We examined whether caspase activity is required for Dictyostelium cell death. We found that caspase inhibitors did not affect cell death, although some caspase inhibitors that did not inhibit cell death impaired other stages in development and could block affinity-labelling of soluble extracts of Dictyostelium cells with an activated caspase-specific reagent. The simplest interpretation of these results is that in Dictyostelium, whether or not caspase-like molecules exist and are required for some developmental steps, caspase activation is not required for cell death itself.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / physiology*
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Dictyostelium / cytology*
  • Dictyostelium / enzymology
  • Dictyostelium / growth & development


  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • Caspases