Cassandra Coburn 1 , Erik Allman 2 , Parag Mahanti 3 , Alexandre Benedetto 1 , Filipe Cabreiro 1 , Zachary Pincus 4 , Filip Matthijssens 5 , Caroline Araiz 1 , Abraham Mandel 1 , Manolis Vlachos 6 , Sally-Anne Edwards 1 , Grahame Fischer 1 , Alexander Davidson 1 , Rosina E. Pryor 1 , Ailsa Stevens 1 , Frank J. Slack 4 , Nektarios Tavernarakis 6 , Bart P. Braeckman 5 , Frank C. Schroeder 3 , Keith Nehrke 2 , 7 , David Gems 1 , *
23 July 2013
For cells the passage from life to death can involve a regulated, programmed transition. In contrast to cell death, the mechanisms of systemic collapse underlying organismal death remain poorly understood. Here we present evidence of a cascade of cell death involving the calpain-cathepsin necrosis pathway that can drive organismal death in Caenorhabditis elegans. We report that organismal death is accompanied by a burst of intense blue fluorescence, generated within intestinal cells by the necrotic cell death pathway. Such death fluorescence marks an anterior to posterior wave of intestinal cell death that is accompanied by cytosolic acidosis. This wave is propagated via the innexin INX-16, likely by calcium influx. Notably, inhibition of systemic necrosis can delay stress-induced death. We also identify the source of the blue fluorescence, initially present in intestinal lysosome-related organelles (gut granules), as anthranilic acid glucosyl esters—not, as previously surmised, the damage product lipofuscin. Anthranilic acid is derived from tryptophan by action of the kynurenine pathway. These findings reveal a central mechanism of organismal death in C. elegans that is related to necrotic propagation in mammals—e.g., in excitotoxicity and ischemia-induced neurodegeneration. Endogenous anthranilate fluorescence renders visible the spatio-temporal dynamics of C. elegans organismal death.
In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, intestinal lysosome-related organelles (or “gut granules”) contain a bright blue fluorescent substance of unknown identity. This has similar spectral properties to lipofuscin, a product of oxidative damage known to accumulate with age in postmitotic mammalian cells. Blue fluorescence seems to increase in aging worm populations, and lipofuscin has been proposed to be the source. To analyze this further, we measure fluorescence levels after exposure to oxidative stress and during aging in individually tracked worms. Surprisingly, neither of these conditions increases fluorescence levels; instead blue fluorescence increases in a striking and rapid burst at death. Such death fluorescence (DF) also appears in young worms when killed, irrespective of age or cause of death. We chemically identify DF as anthranilic acid glucosyl esters derived from tryptophan, and not lipofuscin. In addition, we show that DF generation in the intestine is dependent upon the necrotic cell death cascade, previously characterized as a driver of neurodegeneration. We find that necrosis spreads in a rapid wave along the intestine by calcium influx via innexin ion channels, accompanied by cytosolic acidosis. Inhibition of necrosis pathway components can delay stress-induced death, supporting its role as a driver of organismal death. This necrotic cascade provides a model system to study neurodegeneration and organismal death.