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Death is a vital developmental cell fate. In Caenorhabditis elegans, programmed death of the linker cell, which leads gonadal elongation, proceeds independently of caspases and apoptotic effectors. To identify genes promoting linker-cell death, we performed a genome-wide RNA interference screen. We show that linker-cell death requires the gene pqn-41, encoding an endogenous polyglutamine-repeat protein. pqn-41 functions cell-autonomously and is expressed at the onset of linker-cell death. pqn-41 expression is controlled by the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase SEK-1, which functions in parallel to the zinc-finger protein LIN-29 to promote cellular demise. Linker-cell death is morphologically similar to cell death associated with normal vertebrate development and polyglutamine-induced neurodegeneration. Our results may therefore provide molecular inroads to understanding nonapoptotic cell death in metazoan development and disease.