Cell death mechanisms in neurodegeneration

J Cell Mol Med. 2001 Jan-Mar;5(1):1-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2001.tb00134.x.


Progressive cell loss in specific neuronal populations often associated with typical cytoskeletal protein aggregations is a pathological hallmark of neurodegenerative disorders, but the nature, time course and molecular causes of cell death and their relation to cytoskeletal pathologies are still unresolved. Apoptosis or alternative pathways of cell death have been discussed in Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Apoptotic DNA fragmentation in human brain as a sign of neuronal injury is found too frequent as to account for continuous neuron loss in these slowly progressive processes. Morphological studies revealed extremely rare apoptotic neuronal death in Alzheimer's disease but yielded mixed results for Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Based on recent data in human brain, as well as in animal and cell culture models, a picture is beginning to emerge suggesting that, in addition to apoptosis, other forms of programmed cell death may participate in neurodegeneration. Better understanding of the molecular players will further elucidate the mechanisms of cell death in these disorders and their relations to cytoskeletal abnormalities. Susceptible cell populations in a proapoptotic environment show increased vulnerability towards multiple noxious factors discussed in the pathogenesis of neurodegeneration. In conclusion, although many in vivo and in vitro data are in favor of apoptosis involvement in neurodegenerative processes, there is considerable evidence that very complex events may contribute to neuronal death with possible repair mechanisms, the elucidation of which may prove useful for future prevention and therapy of neurodegenerative disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cytoskeleton / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology