Control of apoptosis in the immune system: Bcl-2, BH3-only proteins and more

Annu Rev Immunol. 2003;21:71-105. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.21.120601.141029. Epub 2001 Dec 19.


Apoptotic cell death plays a critical role in the development and functioning of the immune system. During differentiation, apoptosis weeds out lymphocytes lacking useful antigen receptors and those expressing dangerous ones. Lymphocyte death is also involved in limiting the magnitude and duration of immune responses to infection. In this review, we describe the role of the Bcl-2 protein family, and to a lesser extent that of death receptors (members of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family with a death domain), in the control of lymphoid and myeloid cell survival. We also consider the pathogenic consequences of failure of apoptosis in the immune system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Caspases / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / cytology*
  • Immune System / growth & development
  • Myeloid Cells / cytology
  • Myeloid Cells / immunology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / immunology
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Caspases