A lipid perspective on regulated cell death

Int Rev Cell Mol Biol. 2020;351:197-236. doi: 10.1016/bs.ircmb.2019.11.004. Epub 2019 Dec 18.


Lipids are fundamental to life as structural components of cellular membranes and for signaling. They are also key regulators of different cellular processes such as cell division, proliferation, and death. Regulated cell death (RCD) requires the engagement of lipids and lipid metabolism for the initiation and execution of its killing machinery. The permeabilization of lipid membranes is a hallmark of RCD that involves, for each kind of cell death, a unique lipid profile. While the permeabilization of the mitochondrial outer membrane allows the release of apoptotic factors to the cytosol during apoptosis, permeabilization of the plasma membrane facilitates the release of intracellular content in other nonapoptotic types of RCD like necroptosis and ferroptosis. Lipids and lipid membranes are important accessory molecules required for the activation of protein executors of cell death such as BAX in apoptosis and MLKL in necroptosis. Peroxidation of membrane phospholipids and the subsequent membrane destabilization is a prerequisite to ferroptosis. Here, we discuss how lipids are essential players in apoptosis, the most common form of RCD, and also their role in necroptosis and ferroptosis. Altogether, we aim to highlight the contribution of lipids and membrane dynamics in cell death regulation.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Ferroptosis; Membrane dynamics; Mitochondria; Necroptosis; Plasma membrane; Regulated cell death.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Death*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Lipids*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism


  • BCL2 protein, human
  • Lipids
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2