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Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2002 Jan;23(1):19-24.

Apoptosis: a guide for the perplexed.

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Dept of Pharmacology and Neurology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, AZ 85724, USA.


The term 'apoptosis' describes an active process of cellular deconstruction originally contrasted morphologically with necrosis. The mistaken equivalence of the terms apoptosis and 'programmed cell death' has caused confusion and implied that apoptosis is an identifiable therapeutic target rather than a name of a type of cell death. The roots of confusion are suggested to lie not in superficial disagreements about the morphology and biochemistry of cell death, but in the lamentable disconnection of modern science from its philosophical foundations (i.e. Socratic definition, nominalism versus realism, and William of Ockham's advocacy of Aristotelian metaphysics over Plato's Theory of Forms). Renewed awareness of these issues might be the key to understanding that apoptosis is a created concept, not a real entity, and that the use of terms that defy definition has become an obstacle to clear thinking about preventable cell death.

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