Programmes of cell death and autolysis in tracheary elements: when a suicidal cell arranges its own corpse removal
J Exp Bot. 2014; 65(5):1313-1321
Escamez S, Tuominen H

Tracheary element (TE) differentiation represents a unique system to study plant developmental programmed cell death (PCD). TE PCD occurs after deposition of the secondary cell walls when an unknown signal induces tonoplast rupture and the arrest of cytoplasmic streaming. TE PCD is tightly followed by autolysis of the protoplast and partial hydrolysis of the primary cell walls. This review integrates TE differentiation, programmed cell death (PCD), and autolysis in a biological and evolutionary context. The collective evidence from the evolutionary and molecular studies suggests that TE differentiation consists primarily of a programme for cell death and autolysis under the direct control of the transcriptional master switches VASCULAR NAC DOMAIN 6 (VND6) and VND7. In this scenario, secondary cell walls represent a later innovation to improve the water transport capacity of TEs which necessitates transcriptional regulators downstream of VND6 and VND7. One of the most fascinating features of TEs is that they need to prepare their own corpse removal by expression and accumulation of hydrolases that are released from the vacuole after TE cell death. Therefore, TE differentiation involves, in addition to PCD, a programmed autolysis which is initiated before cell death and executed post-mortem. It has recently become clear that TE PCD and autolysis are separate processes with separate molecular regulation. Therefore, the importance of distinguishing between the cell death programme per se and autolysis in all plant PCD research and of careful description of the morphological, biochemical, and molecular sequences in each of these processes, is advocated.

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