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Apoptotic markers in protozoan parasites

Antonio Jiménez-Ruiz1*, Juan Fernando Alzate2, Ewan Thomas MacLeod3, Carsten Günter Kurt Lüder4, Nicolas Fasel5 and Hilary Hurd6

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular, Universidad de Alcalá, 28871 Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain

2 Grupo de Parasitología, Departamento de Microbiología y Parasitología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Antioquia. Carrera 51D # 62-29, Medellín, Colombia

3 Division of Pathway Medicine, School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, 1Summerhall Square, Edinburgh EH9 1QH, UK

4 Institute for Medical Microbiology, Georg-August-University, Kreuzbergring 57, 37075 Göttingen, Germany

5 Department of Biochemistry, Univerisity of Lausanne, 1066 Epalinges, Switzerland

6 Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology, School of Life Sciences, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK

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Parasites & Vectors 2010, 3:104  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-3-104

Published: 9 November 2010


The execution of the apoptotic death program in metazoans is characterized by a sequence of morphological and biochemical changes that include cell shrinkage, presentation of phosphatidylserine at the cell surface, mitochondrial alterations, chromatin condensation, nuclear fragmentation, membrane blebbing and the formation of apoptotic bodies. Methodologies for measuring apoptosis are based on these markers. Except for membrane blebbing and formation of apoptotic bodies, all other events have been observed in most protozoan parasites undergoing cell death. However, while techniques exist to detect these markers, they are often optimised for metazoan cells and therefore may not pick up subtle differences between the events occurring in unicellular organisms and multi-cellular organisms.

In this review we discuss the markers most frequently used to analyze cell death in protozoan parasites, paying special attention to changes in cell morphology, mitochondrial activity, chromatin structure and plasma membrane structure/permeability. Regarding classical regulators/executors of apoptosis, we have reviewed the present knowledge of caspase-like and nuclease activities.