Monitoring the clearance of apoptotic and necrotic cells in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans

Methods Mol Biol. 2013;1004:183-202. doi: 10.1007/978-1-62703-383-1_14.


The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an excellent model organism for studying the mechanisms -controlling cell death, including apoptosis, a cell suicide event, and necrosis, pathological cell deaths caused by environmental insults or genetic alterations. C. elegans has also been established as a model for understanding how dying cells are cleared from animal bodies. In particular, the transparent nature of worm bodies and eggshells make C. elegans particularly amenable for live-cell microscopy. Here we describe methods for identifying apoptotic and necrotic cells in living C. elegans embryos, larvae, and adults and for monitoring their clearance during development. We further discuss specific methods to distinguish engulfed from unengulfed apoptotic cells, and methods to monitor cellular and molecular events occurring during phagosome maturation. These methods are based on Differential Interference Contrast (DIC) microscopy or fluorescence microscopy using GFP-based reporters.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / embryology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Count
  • Cytological Techniques / methods*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Interference
  • Necrosis
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Phagocytosis
  • Phagosomes / metabolism
  • Time-Lapse Imaging


  • Biomarkers
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins