The Morphogenetic Role of Apoptosis

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2015:114:335-62. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2015.07.027. Epub 2015 Sep 16.


Beyond safeguarding the organism from cell misbehavior and controlling cell number, apoptosis (or programmed cell death) plays key roles during animal development. In particular, it has long been acknowledged that apoptosis participates in tissue remodeling. Yet, until recently, this contribution to morphogenesis was considered as "passive," consisting simply in the local removal of unnecessary cells leading to a new shape. In recent years, applying live imaging methods to study the dynamics of apoptosis in various contexts has considerably modified our vision, revealing that in fact, dying cells remodel their neighborhood actively. Here, we first focus on the intrinsic cellular properties of apoptotic cells during their dismantling, in particular the role of the cytoskeleton during their characteristic morphological changes. Second, we review the various roles of apoptosis during developmental morphogenetic processes and pinpoint the crucial role of live imaging in revealing new concepts, in particular apoptosis as a generator of mechanical forces to control tissue dynamics.

Keywords: Actin; Apoptosis dynamics; Apoptotic force; Cell blebbing; Cell extrusion; Cell fragmentation; Development; Epithelial folding; Live imaging; Morphogenesis; Myosin II.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cell Shape
  • Cytoskeleton*
  • Drosophila / cytology
  • Drosophila / embryology
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Extremities / embryology
  • Morphogenesis / physiology*