Programmed cell death (PCD) serves as a major mechanism for the precise regulation of cell numbers, and as a defense mechanism to remove unwanted and potentially dangerous cells. Despite the striking heterogeneity of cell death induction pathways, the execution of the death program is often associated with characteristic morphological and biochemical changes termed apoptosis. Although for a long time the absence of mitochondrial changes was considered as a hallmark of apoptosis, mitochondria appear today as the central executioner of programmed cell death. This crucial position of mitochondria in programmed cell death control is not due to a simple loss of function (deficit in energy supplying), but rather to an active process in the regulation of effector mechanisms.
The large diversity of regulators of apoptosis in mammals and their numerous interactions complicate the analysis of their individual functions. Yeast, eukaryotic but unicellular organism, lack the main regulators of apoptosis (caspases, Bcl-2 family members, …) found in mammals. This absence render them a powerful tool for heterologous expression, functional studies, and even cloning of new regulators of apoptosis.
Great advances have thus been made in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of Bcl-2 family members interactions with themselves and other cellular proteins, specially thanks to the two hybrid system and the easy manipulation of yeast (molecular biology and genetics).
This review will focus on the use of yeast as a tool to identify new regulators and study function of mammalian apoptosis regulators.