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Am J Pathol. Jan 1995; 146(1): 3–15.
PMCID: PMC1870771

Apoptosis, oncosis, and necrosis. An overview of cell death.


The historical development of the cell death concept is reviewed, with special attention to the origin of the terms necrosis, coagulation necrosis, autolysis, physiological cell death, programmed cell death, chromatolysis (the first name of apoptosis in 1914), karyorhexis, karyolysis, and cell suicide, of which there are three forms: by lysosomes, by free radicals, and by a genetic mechanism (apoptosis). Some of the typical features of apoptosis are discussed, such as budding (as opposed to blebbing and zeiosis) and the inflammatory response. For cell death not by apoptosis the most satisfactory term is accidental cell death. Necrosis is commonly used but it is not appropriate, because it does not indicate a form of cell death but refers to changes secondary to cell death by any mechanism, including apoptosis. Abundant data are available on one form of accidental cell death, namely ischemic cell death, which can be considered an entity of its own, caused by failure of the ionic pumps of the plasma membrane. Because ischemic cell death (in known models) is accompanied by swelling, the name oncosis is proposed for this condition. The term oncosis (derived from ónkos, meaning swelling) was proposed in 1910 by von Reckling-hausen precisely to mean cell death with swelling. Oncosis leads to necrosis with karyolysis and stands in contrast to apoptosis, which leads to necrosis with karyorhexis and cell shrinkage.

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Selected References

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