Cell Death: Overview

Our research examines gene-directed programs that specify programmed and unprogrammed cell death. In both vertebrates and invertebrates, dying cells often progress through a series of ultrastructural changes called apoptosis. Stimuli that provoke apoptosis have been extensively investigated in numerous experimental models and it is well established that this form of programmed cell death (PCD) requires genetic functions within the dying cell.

green stained fly embryos
Apoptotic cell death is visualized in a Drosophila embryo using acridine orange. Top: z-series

Apoptosis is important not only for development but also as an adaptive response during cellular injury and in viral infection. Extensive evidence links aberrant apoptosis to the etiology of cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, auto-immunities, AIDS and heart disease. The cloning of genes necessary for PCD has spurred our collective understanding of apoptotic cell death and established that core components of the "apoptotic engine" are highly conserved. Despite our advanced body of knowledge, fundamental gaps in our understanding of apoptotic death in biology and medicine remain.

An emerging literature also supports the view that other forms of cell suicide occur and, like apoptosis, these alternate forms of cell death are controlled through genetically encoded programs.