Fungal apoptosis: function, genes and gene function


  • Editor: Martin Kupiec

Correspondence: Amir Sharon, Department of Plant Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel. Tel.: +972 3 6406741; fax: +972 3 6405498; e-mail:


Cells of all living organisms are programmed to self-destruct under certain conditions. The most well known form of programmed cell death is apoptosis, which is essential for proper development in higher eukaryotes. In fungi, apoptotic-like cell death occurs naturally during aging and reproduction, and can be induced by environmental stresses and exposure to toxic metabolites. The core apoptotic machinery in fungi is similar to that in mammals, but the apoptotic network is less complex and of more ancient origin. Only some of the mammalian apoptosis-regulating proteins have fungal homologs, and the number of protein families is drastically reduced. Expression in fungi of animal proteins that do not have fungal homologs often affects apoptosis, suggesting functional conservation of these components despite the absence of protein-sequence similarity. Functional analysis of Saccharomyces cerevisiae apoptotic genes, and more recently of those in some filamentous species, has revealed partial conservation, along with substantial differences in function and mode of action between fungal and human proteins. It has been suggested that apoptotic proteins might be suitable targets for novel antifungal treatments. However, implementation of this approach requires a better understanding of fungal apoptotic networks and identification of the key proteins regulating apoptotic-like cell death in fungi.