Cell death assays for drug discovery

Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2011 Mar;10(3):221-37. doi: 10.1038/nrd3373.


Cell death has an important role in many human diseases, and strategies aimed at modulating the associated pathways have been successfully applied to treat various disorders. Indeed, several clinically promising cytotoxic and cytoprotective agents with potential applications in cancer, ischaemic and neurodegenerative diseases have recently been identified by high-throughput screening (HTS), based on appropriate cell death assays. Given that different cell death modalities may be dysregulated in different diseases, it is becoming increasingly clear that such assays need to not only quantify the extent of cell death, but they must also be able to distinguish between the various pathways. Here, we systematically describe approaches to accurately quantify distinct cell death pathways, discuss their advantages and pitfalls, and focus on those techniques that are amenable to HTS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Autophagy
  • Biological Assay*
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Death / drug effects*
  • Cell-Free System
  • Cells / metabolism
  • Coloring Agents
  • Drug Discovery / methods*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism
  • Mitosis / physiology
  • Necrosis / pathology


  • Coloring Agents