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Ann Hematol. 2005 Oct;84(10):627-39. Epub 2005 Jul 22.

Apoptosis: mechanisms and relevance in cancer.

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  • 1Faculty of Medicine, Laboratory of Experimental Hematology, Antwerp University Hospital, University of Antwerp, Wilrijkstraat 10, 2650, Edegem, Belgium.


Apoptosis or programmed cell death is a process with typical morphological characteristics including plasma membrane blebbing, cell shrinkage, chromatin condensation and fragmentation. A family of cystein-dependent aspartate-directed proteases, called caspases, is responsible for the proteolytic cleavage of cellular proteins leading to the characteristic apoptotic features, e.g. cleavage of caspase-activated DNase resulting in internucleosomal DNA fragmentation. Currently, two pathways for activating caspases have been studied in detail. One starts with ligation of a death ligand to its transmembrane death receptor, followed by recruitment and activation of caspases in the death-inducing signalling complex. The second pathway involves the participation of mitochondria, which release caspase-activating proteins into the cytosol, thereby forming the apoptosome where caspases will bind and become activated. In addition, two other apoptotic pathways are emerging: endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced apoptosis and caspase-independent apoptosis. Naturally occurring cell death plays a critical role in many normal processes like foetal development and tissue homeostasis. Dysregulation of apoptosis contributes to many diseases, including cancer. On the other hand, apoptosis-regulating proteins also provide targets for drug discovery and new approaches to the treatment of cancer.

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