In the presence of extensive DNA damage, eukaryotes activate endonucleases to fragment their chromosomes and induce apoptotic cell death. Apoptotic-like responses have recently been described in bacteria, but primarily in specialized mutant backgrounds, and the factors responsible for DNA damage-induced chromosome fragmentation and death have not been identified. Here we find that wild-type Caulobacter cells induce apoptotic-like cell death in response to extensive DNA damage. The bacterial apoptosis endonuclease (BapE) protein is induced by damage but not involved in DNA repair itself, and mediates this cell fate decision. BapE fragments chromosomes by cleaving supercoiled DNA in a sequence-nonspecific manner, thereby perturbing chromosome integrity both in vivo and in vitro. This damage-induced chromosome fragmentation pathway resembles that of eukaryotic apoptosis. We propose that damage-induced programmed cell death can be a primary stress response for some bacterial species, providing isogenic bacterial communities with advantages similar to those that apoptosis provides to multicellular organisms.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
Last updated on 01/17/2020
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