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Semin Cancer Biol. 2007 Apr;17(2):122-33. Epub 2006 Dec 15.

Non-developmentally programmed cell death in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Foundation for Research and Technology, Heraklion 71110, Crete, Greece.


The simple nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans has played a pivotal role in deciphering the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis. Precisely 131 somatic cells undergo programmed apoptotic death during development to contour the 959-cell adult organism. In addition to developmental cell death, specific genetic manipulations and extrinsic factors can trigger non-programmed cell death that is morphologically and mechanistically distinct from apoptosis. Here, we survey paradigms of cell death that is not developmentally programmed in C. elegans and review the molecular mechanisms involved. Furthermore, we consider the potential of the nematode as a platform to investigate pathological cell death. The striking extent of conservation between apoptotic pathways in worms and higher organisms including humans, holds promise that similarly, studies of non-programmed cell death in C. elegans will yield significant new insights, highly relevant to human pathology.

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