Oncosis: an important non-apoptotic mode of cell death

Exp Mol Pathol. 2012 Dec;93(3):302-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yexmp.2012.09.018. Epub 2012 Oct 1.


It is now increasingly accepted that apoptosis may not be the only form of cell death seen in vitro and in vivo; hence there is a need to study novel forms of cell death. The explosion of cell death research that followed the recognition of apoptosis by Kerr and colleagues in the late 1960s completely obscured the fact that apoptosis is not the only form of cell death. Apoptosis manifests itself by cell shrinkage followed by breakup; another form (oncosis) is almost the opposite: it involves cell swelling and coagulation of the cytoplasm. The name oncosis was chosen over a century ago by von Recklinghausen, a top collaborator of Rudolph Virchow and thereby one of the founders of cellular pathology. Nevertheless, oncosis was forgotten, largely because a satisfactory technique for preparing tissue sections did not exist at the time. Also confusion developed regarding the distinction between oncosis as a mode of cell injury and cell death, and necrosis as a degradation process following cell death. In this review we have described the many characteristics of oncosis from a morphological and biochemical standpoint, and we briefly examine the application of oncosis in disease processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Benzophenanthridines / pharmacology
  • Cell Death / physiology*
  • Cell Enlargement* / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Isoquinolines / pharmacology
  • Leukemia / drug therapy
  • Leukemia / pathology
  • Mice
  • Myocardial Ischemia / pathology
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / drug effects
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / pathology
  • Necrosis
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzophenanthridines
  • Isoquinolines
  • sanguinarine