Apoptosis-like yeast cell death in response to DNA damage and replication defects

William C. Burhans, Martin Weinberger, Maria A. Marchetti, Lakshmi Ramachandran, Gennaro D'Urso, Joel A. Huberman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


In budding (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and fission (Schizosaccharomyces pombe) yeast and other unicellular organisms, DNA damage and other stimuli can induce cell death resembling apoptosis in metazoans, including the activation of a recently discovered caspase-like molecule in budding yeast. Induction of apoptotic-like cell death in yeasts requires homologues of cell cycle checkpoint proteins that are often required for apoptosis in metazoan cells. Here, we summarize these findings and our unpublished results which show that an important component of metazoan apoptosis recently detected in budding yeast - reactive oxygen species (ROS) - can also be detected in fission yeast undergoing an apoptotic-like cell death. ROS were detected in fission and budding yeast cells bearing conditional mutations in genes encoding DNA replication initiation proteins and in fission yeast cells with mutations that deregulate cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs). These mutations may cause DNA damage by permitting entry of cells into S phase with a reduced number of replication forks and/or passage through mitosis with incompletely replicated chromosomes. This may be relevant to the frequent requirement for elevated CDK activity in mammalian apoptosis, and to the recent discovery that the initiation protein Cdc6 is destroyed during apoptosis in mammals and in budding yeast cells exposed to lethal levels of DNA damage. Our data indicate that connections between apoptosis-like cell death and DNA replication or CDK activity are complex. Some apoptosis-like pathways require checkpoint proteins, others are inhibited by them, and others are independent of them. This complexity resembles that of apoptotic pathways in mammalian cells, which are frequently deregulated in cancer. The greater genetic tractability of yeasts should help to delineate these complex pathways and their relationships to cancer and to the effects of apoptosis-inducing drugs that inhibit DNA replication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-243
Number of pages17
JournalMutation Research - Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 27 2003


  • Apoptosis
  • Checkpoints
  • DNA damage
  • DNA replication
  • Programmed cell death
  • Replication forks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Molecular Biology


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