Role of programmed (apoptotic) cell death during the progression and therapy for prostate cancer

Prostate. 1996 Apr;28(4):251-65. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0045(199604)28:4<251::AID-PROS6>3.0.CO;2-G.


Cells possess within their epigenetic repertoire the ability to undergo an active process of cellular suicide termed programmed (or apoptotic) cell death. This programmed cell death process involves an epigenetic reprogramming of the cell that results in an energy-dependent cascade of biochemical and morphologic changes (also termed apoptosis) within the cell, resulting in its death and elimination. Although the final steps (i.e., DNA and cellular fragmentation) are common to cells undergoing programmed cell death, the activation of this death process is initiated either by sufficient injury to the cell induced by various exogenous damaging agents (e.g., radiation, chemicals, viruses) or by changes in the levels of a series of endogenous signals (e.g., hormones and growth/survival factors). Within the prostate, androgens are capable of both stimulating proliferation as well as inhibiting the rate of the glandular epithelial cell death. Androgen withdrawal triggers the programmed cell death pathway in both normal prostate glandular epithelia and androgen-dependent prostate cancer cells. Androgen-independent prostate cancer cells do not initiate the programmed cell death pathway upon androgen ablation; however, they do retain the cellular machinery necessary to activate the programmed cell death cascade when sufficiently damaged by exogenous agents. In the normal prostate epithelium, cell proliferation is balanced by a equal rate of programmed cell death, such that neither involution nor overgrowth normal occurs. In prostatic cancer, however, this balance is lost, such that there is greater proliferation than death producing continuous net growth. Thus, an imbalance in programmed cell death must occur during prostatic cancer progression. The goal of effective therapy for prostatic cancer, therefore, is to correct this imbalance. Unfortunately, this has not been achieved and metastatic prostatic cancer is still a lethal disease for which no curative therapy is currently available. In order to develop such effective therapy, an understanding of the programmed death pathway, and what controls it, is critical. Thus, a review of the present state of knowledge concerning programmed cell death of normal and malignant prostatic cells will be presented.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Androgens / physiology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orchiectomy
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Androgens
  • Antineoplastic Agents