Programmed cell death is a physiological process through which unwanted cells are removed from organisms. During the development of the nematode C. elegans, 131 cells reproducibly die through programmed cell death, and this makes C. elegans an ideal model to study function, mechanism and regulation of programmed cell death across scales, from the organismal to the single cell level.
Most of the 131 cells that die during C. elegans development succumb through what is referred to as ‘apoptotic’ cell death, which depends on a conserved genetic pathway and culminates in the activation of a class of proteases called ‘caspases’. Recently, we discovered that the decision whether a cell lives or dies during C. elegans development is often made during the cell division that gives rise to that cell. Furthermore, we found that the conserved apoptotic pathway not only kills cells once they have been generated but actively participates in the ‘asymmetric’ cell divisions that give rise to these cells. Our future goal is to investigate changes in gene expression and cellular constituents, such as mitochondria, that are critical for these live versus death decisions and to elucidate the role of the apoptotic pathway in the decision making process.
Cell size and cell fate
Mitochondria and cell fate
Regulation of the apoptotic pathway