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Gastroenterology. 2003 Oct;125(4):1246-57.

Apoptosis versus oncotic necrosis in hepatic ischemia/reperfusion injury.

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  • 1Liver Research Institute, University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Room 6309, 1501 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson, Arizona, USA.


Warm and cold hepatic ischemia followed by reperfusion leads to necrotic cell death (oncosis), which often occurs within minutes of reperfusion. Recent studies also suggest a large component of apoptosis after ischemia/reperfusion. Here, we review the mechanisms underlying adenosine triphosphate depletion-dependent oncotic necrosis and caspase-dependent apoptosis, with emphasis on shared features and pathways. Although apoptosis causes internucleosomal DNA degradation that can be detected by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick-end labeling and related assays, DNA degradation also occurs after oncotic necrosis and leads to pervasive terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick-end labeling staining far in excess of that for apoptosis. Similarly, although apoptosis can occur in a physiological setting without inflammation, in pathophysiological settings apoptosis frequently induces inflammation because of the onset of secondary necrosis and stimulation of cytokine and chemokine formation. In liver, the mitochondrial permeability transition represents a shared pathway that leads to both oncotic necrosis and apoptosis. When the mitochondrial permeability transition causes severe adenosine triphosphate depletion, plasma membrane failure and necrosis ensue. If adenosine triphosphate is preserved, at least in part, cytochrome c release after the mitochondrial permeability transition activates caspase-dependent apoptosis. Mitochondrial permeability transition-dependent cell death illustrates the concept of necrapoptosis, whereby common pathways lead to both necrosis and apoptosis. In conclusion, oncotic necrosis and apoptosis can share features and mechanisms, which sometimes makes discrimination between the 2 forms of cell death difficult. However, elucidation of critical cell death pathways under clinically relevant conditions will show potentially important therapeutic intervention strategies in hepatic ischemia/reperfusion injury.

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