Cell death beyond apoptosis

Leukemia. 2000 Aug;14(8):1502-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.leu.2401864.


Though the term apoptosis was originated in pathology and developmental biology as an alternative to necrosis, the tissue necrosis with inflammation is irrelevant to cell culture conditions where apoptosis is mostly studied. Furthermore, no one single morphological feature is either necessary or sufficient to define apoptosis. The emerging biochemical definition, a cell death with caspase activation, allows the distinction of alternative forms of cell death. Thus, inhibition of caspases delays but does not prevent cell death. Slow cell death without caspase activation may nevertheless be associated with DNA fragmentation. Oncogenic Ras, Raf, and mitogen-activated kinases inhibit apoptosis by affecting the cytochrome C/caspase-9 pathway but may arrest growth and cause slow cell death with delayed DNA fragmentation. Such 'slow' cell death without caspase activation is often caused by chemotherapeutic drugs. Whether a cell will undergo apoptosis or slow death depends not only on a chemotherapeutic agent but also on the readiness of cellular caspases. Therefore, one can distinguish apoptosis-prone (eg leukemia) vs apoptosis-resistant cells. Cell susceptibilities to spontaneous, starvation-induced and drug-induced apoptosis are correlated and characterize an apoptosis-prone phenotype. Finally, distinction of slow cell death allows rephrasing of a question regarding the goal of cancer therapy: apoptosis vs slow cell death, or cancer cell-selectivity regardless of the mode of cell death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caspases / physiology*
  • Cell Death* / drug effects
  • Cell Death* / physiology
  • Humans


  • Caspases