Autophagy and apoptosis are redundantly required for C. elegans embryogenesis

Éva Borsos, Péter Erdélyi, Tibor Vellai

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

12 Citations (Scopus)


Apoptosis, the main form of regulated (or programmed) cell death, allows the organism to tightly control cell numbers and tissue size, and to protect itself from potentially damaging cells. This type of cellular self-killing has long been assumed to be essential for early development. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, however, the core apoptotic cell death pathway appears to be dispensable for embryogenesis when most developmental cell deaths take place: mutant nematodes defective for apoptosis develop into adulthood, with superficially normal morphology and behavior. Accumulating evidence indicates a similar situation in mammalian systems as well. For example, apoptosis-deficient mice can grow as healthy, fertile adults. These observations raise the possibility that alternative cell death mechanisms may compensate for the lack of apoptotic machinery in developing embryos. Interestingly, C. elegans embryogenesis can also occur without autophagy, an alternative form of cellular self-destruction (also called autophagic cell death). In an upcoming paper we report that simultaneous inactivation of the autophagic and apoptotic gene cascades in C. elegans arrests development at early stages, and the affected embryos exhibit severe morphological defects. Double-mutant nematode embryos deficient in both autophagy and apoptosis are unable to undergo body elongation or to arrange several tissues correctly. This novel function of autophagy genes in morphogenesis indicates a more fundamental role for cellular self-digestion in tissue patterning than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-559
Number of pages3
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2011



  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • C. elegans
  • Development
  • Embryogenesis
  • Viability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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