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Programmed cell death in trypanosomatids: is it an altruistic mechanism for survival of the fittest?

Alain Debrabant and Hira Nakhasi*

Author Affiliations

Laboratory of Bacterial, Parasitic and Unconventional Agents,Division of Emerging and Transfusion Transmitted Diseases, OBRR/CBER/FDA, Bldg.29, Rm.222, HFM-310, 8800 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

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Kinetoplastid Biology and Disease 2003, 2:7  doi:10.1186/1475-9292-2-7

Published: 25 June 2003


The protozoan parasites Leishmania, Trypanosoma cruzi and Trypanosoma brucei show multiple features consistent with a form of programmed cell death (PCD). Despite some similarities with apoptosis of mammalian cells, PCD in trypanosomatid protozoans appears to be significantly different. In these unicellular organisms, PCD could represent an altruistic mechanism for the selection of cells, from the parasite population, that are fit to be transmitted to the next host. Alternatively, PCD could help in controlling the population of parasites in the host, thereby increasing host survival and favoring parasite transmission, as proposed by Seed and Wenk. Therefore, PCD in trypanosomatid parasites may represent a pathway involved both in survival and propagation of the species.