Department of Genetics and Evolution, Faculty of Science, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
In the freshwater cnidarian polyp Hydra, cell death takes place in multiple contexts. Indeed apoptosis occurs during oogenesis and spermatogenesis, during starvation, and in early head regenerating tips, promoting local compensatory proliferation at the boundary between heterografts. Apoptosis can also be induced upon exposure to pro-apoptotic agents (colchicine, wortmannin), upon heat-shock in the thermosensitive sf-1 mutant, and upon wounding. In all these contexts, the cells that undergo cell death belong predominantly to the interstitial cell lineage, whereas the epithelial cells, which are rather resistant to pro-apoptotic signals, engulf the apoptotic bodies. Beside this clear difference between the interstitial and the epithelial cell lineages, the different interstitial cell derivatives also show noticeable variations in their respective apoptotic sensitivity, with the precursor cells appearing as the most sensitive to pro-apoptotic signals. The apoptotic machinery has been well conserved across evolution. However, its specific role and regulation in each context are not known yet. Tools that help characterize apoptotic activity in Hydra have recently been developed. Among them, the aposensor Apoliner initially designed in Drosophila reliably measures wortmannin-induced apoptotic activity in a biochemical assay. Also, flow cytometry and TUNEL analyses help identify distinctive features between wortmannin-induced and heat-shock induced apoptosis in the sf-1 strain. Thanks to the live imaging tools already available, Hydra now offers a model system with which the functions of the apoptotic machinery to maintain long-term homeostasis, stem cell renewal, germ cell production, active developmental processes and non-self response can be deciphered.