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Cell Death Differ. 2005 Nov;12 Suppl 2:1497-508.

Death penalty for keratinocytes: apoptosis versus cornification.

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  • 1Molecular Signaling and Cell Death Unit, Department for Molecular Biomedical Research, VIB (Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology) and Ghent University, Technologiepark 927, B-9052 Zwijnaarde, Belgium.


Homeostasis implies a balance between cell growth and cell death. This balance is essential for the development and maintenance of multicellular organisms. Homeostasis is controlled by several mechanisms including apoptosis, a process by which cells condemned to death are completely eliminated. However, in some cases, total destruction and removal of dead cells is not desirable, as when they fulfil a specific function such as formation of the skin barrier provided by corneocytes, also known as terminally differentiated keratinocytes. In this case, programmed cell death results in accumulation of functional cell corpses. Previously, this process has been associated with apoptotic cell death. In this overview, we discuss differences and similarities in the molecular regulation of epidermal programmed cell death and apoptosis. We conclude that despite earlier confusion, apoptosis and cornification occur through distinct molecular pathways, and that possibly antiapoptotic mechanisms are implicated in the terminal differentiation of keratinocytes.

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