Necrosis: a specific form of programmed cell death?

Exp Cell Res. 2003 Feb 1;283(1):1-16. doi: 10.1016/s0014-4827(02)00027-7.


For a long time necrosis was considered as an alternative to programmed cell death, apoptosis. Indeed, necrosis has distinct morphological features and it is accompanied by rapid permeabilization of plasma membrane. However, recent data indicate that, in contrast to necrosis caused by very extreme conditions, there are many examples when this form of cell death may be a normal physiological and regulated (programmed) event. Various stimuli (e.g., cytokines, ischemia, heat, irradiation, pathogens) can cause both apoptosis and necrosis in the same cell population. Furthermore, signaling pathways, such as death receptors, kinase cascades, and mitochondria, participate in both processes, and by modulating these pathways, it is possible to switch between apoptosis and necrosis. Moreover, antiapoptotic mechanisms (e.g., Bcl-2/Bcl-x proteins, heat shock proteins) are equally effective in protection against apoptosis and necrosis. Therefore, necrosis, along with apoptosis, appears to be a specific form of execution phase of programmed cell death, and there are several examples of necrosis during embryogenesis, a normal tissue renewal, and immune response. However, the consequences of necrotic and apoptotic cell death for a whole organism are quite different. In the case of necrosis, cytosolic constituents that spill into extracellular space through damaged plasma membrane may provoke inflammatory response; during apoptosis these products are safely isolated by membranes and then are consumed by macrophages. The inflammatory response caused by necrosis, however, may have obvious adaptive significance (i.e., emergence of a strong immune response) under some pathological conditions (such as cancer and infection). On the other hand, disturbance of a fine balance between necrosis and apoptosis may be a key element in development of some diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Eukaryotic Cells / cytology
  • Eukaryotic Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Necrosis*
  • Phagocytosis / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*