Apoptosis signaling

Annu Rev Biochem. 2000;69:217-45. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.69.1.217.


Apoptosis, a physiological process for killing cells, is critical for the normal development and function of multicellular organisms. Abnormalities in cell death control can contribute to a variety of diseases, including cancer, autoimmunity, and degenerative disorders. Signaling for apoptosis occurs through multiple independent pathways that are initiated either from triggering events within the cell or from outside the cell, for instance, by ligation of death receptors. All apoptosis signaling pathways converge on a common machinery of cell destruction that is activated by a family of cysteine proteases (caspases) that cleave proteins at aspartate residues. Dismantling and removal of doomed cells is accomplished by proteolysis of vital cellular constituents, DNA degradation, and phagocytosis by neighboring cells. This article reviews current knowledge of apoptosis signaling, lists several pressing questions, and presents a novel model to explain the biochemical and functional interactions between components of the cell death regulatory machinery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Caspases / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • Caspases