Cell cycle molecules and vertebrate neuron death: E2F at the hub

Cell Death Differ. 2004 Jan;11(1):49-60. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4401341.


Vertebrate neuron cell death is both a normal developmental process and the catastrophic outcome of nervous system trauma or degenerative disorders. Although the mechanisms of such death include an evolutionarily conserved core apoptotic pathway that is highly homologous to that first described by Horvitz and co-workers in Caenorhabditis elegans, it appears that many instances of neuron death additionally require the transcription-dependent induction of proapoptotic molecules. One such proapoptotic transcriptional pathway revealed by studies over the past decade revolves about the transcription factor E2F and those molecules that either regulate E2F activity or that are direct or indirect transcriptional targets of E2F. Many of the molecules associated with the E2F apoptotic pathway in postmitotic neurons also participate in the cell cycle in proliferating cells. Observations in human material and in animal and cell culture models show widespread correlation between changes in expression, activity and subcellular localization of E2F-related cell cycle molecules and developmental and catastrophic neuron death. A variety of experimental approaches support a causal role for such changes in the death process and are beginning to indicate how the neuronal E2F pathway activates the core apoptotic machinery. The discovery and elaboration of the neuronal apoptotic E2F pathway provides abundant targets as well as small molecule candidates for potential therapeutic intervention in nervous system trauma and degenerative disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis* / genetics
  • Apoptosis* / physiology
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Cycle* / genetics
  • Cell Cycle* / physiology
  • Cell Death / genetics
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • E2F Transcription Factors
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Humans
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nuclear Proteins / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • E2F Transcription Factors
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Transcription Factors