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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Programmed cell death (PCD). Apoptosis, autophagic PCD, or others?

The occurrence of cell death as a physiological event in multicellular organisms has been known for more than 150 years; in 1972 the term apoptosis was introduced on morphological grounds. However, accumulating evidence suggests that programmed cell death (PCD) is not confined to apoptosis, but that cells use different pathways for active self-destruction as reflected by different morphology: condensation prominent, type I or apoptosis; autophagy prominent, type II; etc. Autophagic PCD appears to be a phylogenetically old phenomenon; it may occur in physiological and disease states. We have studied the relation between morphological and biochemical events during autophagic and apoptotic PCD in human mammary, lymphoblast, and colon cancer cells using electron microscopy and proteom analysis. We find that autophagic cell death (type II) PCD includes degradation of Golgi apparatus, polyribosomes, and endoplasmic reticulum, which precedes nuclear destruction. Intermediate and microfilaments are largely preserved; presumably the cytoskeleton is required for autophagocytosis. Apoptosis (type I) PCD is characterized by condensation of cytoplasm and preservation of organelles; cytoskeletal elements disintegrate in early stages. Either type of PCD involves synthesis of distinct proteins. Finally, both types of PCD share features some of a cell's stress response (e.g., translocation of hsp90). In conclusion our findings support the concept that autophagic cell death is a separate pathway of PCD distinctly different from "classical" apoptosis. However, autophagic and apoptotic PCD should not be considered as mutually exclusive phenomena. Rather, they appear to reflect a high degree of flexibility in a cell's response to changes of environmental conditions, both physiological or pathological.[1]


  1. Programmed cell death (PCD). Apoptosis, autophagic PCD, or others? Bursch, W., Ellinger, A., Gerner, C., Fröhwein, U., Schulte-Hermann, R. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. (2000) [Pubmed]
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