A cellular suicide strategy of plants: Vacuole-mediated cell death

N. Hatsugai, M. Kuroyanagi, M. Nishimura, I. Hara-Nishimura

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

139 Scopus citations


Programmed cell death (PCD) occurs in animals and plants under various stresses and during development. Recently, vacuolar processing enzyme (VPE) was identified as an executioner of plant PCD. VPE is a cysteine protease that cleaves a peptide bond at the C-terminal side of asparagine and aspartic acid. VPE exhibited enzymatic properties similar to that of a caspase, which is a cysteine protease that mediates the PCD pathway in animals, although there is limited sequence identity between the two enzymes. VPE and caspase-1 share several structural properties: the catalytic dyads and three amino acids forming the substrate pockets (Asp pocket) are conserved between VPE and caspase-1. In contrast to such similarities, subcellular localizations of these proteases are completely different from each other. VPE is localized in the vacuoles, while caspases are localized in the cytosol. VPE functions as a key molecule of plant PCD through disrupting the vacuole in pathogenesis and development. Cell death triggered by vacuolar collapse is unique to plants and has not been seen in animals. Plants might have evolved a VPE-mediated vacuolar system as a cellular suicide strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)905-911
Number of pages7
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by CREST and PREST of the Japan Science and Technology Corporation, and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (nos. 16085203 and 17107002) and 21st Century COE Research Kyoto University (A14) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.


  • Caspase
  • Cysteine protease
  • Programmed cell death
  • VPE
  • Vacuolar processing enzyme
  • Vacuole


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