Developmental cell death: morphological diversity and multiple mechanisms

Anat Embryol (Berl). 1990;181(3):195-213. doi: 10.1007/BF00174615.


Physiological cell death is a widespread phenomenon in the development of both vertebrates and invertebrates. This review concentrates on an aspect of developmental cell death that has tended to be neglected, the manner in which the cells are dismantled. It is emphasized that the dying cells may adopt one of at least three different morphological types: "apoptotic", "autophagic", and "non-lysosomal vesiculate". These probably reflect a corresponding multiplicity of intracellular events. In particular, the destruction of the cytoplasm in these three types appears to be achieved primarily by heterophagy, by autophagy and by non-lysosomal degradation, respectively. The various mechanisms underlying both nuclear and cytoplasmic destruction are reviewed in detail. The multiplicity of destructive mechanisms needs to be born in mind in studies of other aspects of cell death such as the signals which trigger it, since different signals probably trigger different types of cell death.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy
  • Cell Survival*
  • Chick Embryo
  • Necrosis
  • Phagocytosis
  • Rats