Deciphering the rules of programmed cell death to improve therapy of cancer and other diseases

EMBO J. 2011 Aug 23;30(18):3667-83. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2011.307.


Apoptosis, the major form of programmed cell death in metazoan organisms, plays critical roles in normal development, tissue homeostasis and immunity, and its disturbed regulation contributes to many pathological states, including cancer, autoimmunity, infection and degenerative disorders. In vertebrates, it can be triggered either by engagement of 'death receptors' of the tumour necrosis factor receptor family on the cell surface or by diverse intracellular signals that act upon the Bcl-2 protein family, which controls the integrity of the mitochondrial outer membrane through the complex interactions of family members. Both pathways lead to cellular demolition by dedicated proteases termed caspases. This review discusses the groundbreaking experiments from many laboratories that have clarified cell death regulation and galvanised efforts to translate this knowledge into novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of malignant and perhaps certain autoimmune and infectious diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Neoplasms / therapy*