In plants, apoptotic-like programmed cell death (PCD) can be distinguished from other forms of plant cell death by protoplast condensation that results in a morphologically distinct cell corpse. In addition, there is a central regulatory role for the mitochondria and the degradation of the cell and its contents by PCD associated proteases. These distinguishing features are shared with animal apoptosis as it is probable that plant and animal cell death programmes arose in a shared unicellular ancestor. However, animal and plant cell death pathways are not completely conserved. The cell death programmes may have been further modified after the divergence of plant and animal lineages leading to converged, or indeed unique, features of their respective cell death programmes. In this review we will examine the features of apoptotic-like PCD in plants and examine the probable conserved components such as mitochondrial regulation through the release of apoptogenic proteins from the mitochondrial intermembrane space, the possible conserved or converged features such as "caspase-like" molecules which drive cellular destruction and the emerging unique features of plant PCD such as chloroplast involvement in cell death regulation.
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