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Development 130 (23): 5779-5789

Caspase-independent cell engulfment mirrors cell death pattern in Drosophila embryos

Jaime Mergliano, and Jonathan S. Minden*

Department of Biological Sciences and Science and Technology Center for Light Microscope Imaging and Biotechnology, Carnegie Mellon University, 4400 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA

* Author of correspondence (e-mail: minden{at}

Accepted for publication 20 August 2003.

Abstract: Programmed cell death plays an essential role during Drosophila embryonic development. A stereotypic series of cellular changes occur during apoptosis, most of which are initiated by a caspase cascade that is triggered by a trio of proteins, RPR, HID and GRIM. The final step in apoptosis is engulfment of the cell corpse. To monitor cell engulfment in vivo, we developed a fluorogenic ß-galactosidase substrate that is cleaved by an endogenous, lysosomal ß-galactosidase activity. The pattern of cell engulfment in wild-type embryos correlated well with the known pattern of apoptosis. Surprisingly, the pattern of cell engulfment persisted in apoptosis-deficient embryos. We provide evidence for a caspase-independent engulfment process that affects the majority of cells expected to die in developing Drosophila embryos.

Key Words: Drosophila • Embryo • Engulfment • Apoptosis • H99 • p35 • Phagocytosis

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