Recommendations from the INHAND Apoptosis/Necrosis Working Group

Toxicol Pathol. 2016 Feb;44(2):173-88. doi: 10.1177/0192623315625859. Epub 2016 Feb 14.


Historically, there has been confusion relating to the diagnostic nomenclature for individual cell death. Toxicologic pathologists have generally used the terms "single cell necrosis" and "apoptosis" interchangeably. Increased research on the mechanisms of cell death in recent years has led to the understanding that apoptosis and necrosis involve different cellular pathways and that these differences can have important implications when considering overall mechanisms of toxicity, and, for these reasons, the separate terms of apoptosis and necrosis should be used whenever differentiation is possible. However, it is also recognized that differentiation of the precise pathway of cell death may not be important, necessary, or possible in routine toxicity studies and so a more general term to indicate cell death is warranted in these situations. Morphological distinction between these two forms of cell death can sometimes be straightforward but can also be challenging. This article provides a brief discussion of the cellular mechanisms and morphological features of apoptosis and necrosis as well as guidance on when the pathologist should use these terms. It provides recommended nomenclature along with diagnostic criteria (in hematoxylin and eosin [H&E]-stained sections) for the most common forms of cell death (apoptosis and necrosis). This document is intended to serve as current guidance for the nomenclature of cell death for the International Harmonization of Nomenclature and Diagnostic Criteria Organ Working Groups and the toxicologic pathology community at large. The specific recommendations are:Use necrosis and apoptosis as separate diagnostic terms.Use modifiers to denote the distribution of necrosis (e.g., necrosis, single cell; necrosis, focal; necrosis, diffuse; etc.).Use the combined term apoptosis/single cell necrosis whenThere is no requirement or need to split the processes, orWhen the nature of cell death cannot be determined with certainty, orWhen both processes are present together. The diagnosis should be based primarily on the morphological features in H&E-stained sections. When needed, additional, special techniques to identify and characterize apoptosis can also be used.

Keywords: INHAND; apoptosis; cell death; guidance; necrosis; single cell necrosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Necrosis*
  • Pathology / standards*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • Toxicology / standards*