Death in a unicellular world

Programmed cell death, a decision made by cells to die via a self-governed process, has been extensively studied in metazoans (multicellular organisms), however, evidence that unicellular organisms also undergo this process and even induce cell death in their host is growing. A new thematic series, Protazoan parasites and cell death, published in Parasites and Vectors, reviews what is currently known about cell death in single-celled protozoan parasites.

The series examines the biochemical pathways and markers of protozoan cell death, highlighting similarities and differences with metazoan cell death, and asks why parasitic protozoa have evolved such a mechanism at all, as logic dictates that cell death would not be the aim of a parasitic organism once it has entered its host.

The impact of parasitic cell death on host cells is only just beginning to be deciphered. Perhaps surprisingly, there is some evidence that parasite-induced cell death may actually be beneficial to the host, and even help the host survive.

Ultimately, a better understanding of programmed cell death in parasitic protozoa could potentially reveal targets for therapeutic drugs in the fight against infection.  

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