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Neuron. 2003 Oct 9;40(2):401-13.

Diversity in the mechanisms of neuronal cell death.

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Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, 240 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Neurons may die as a normal physiological process during development or as a pathological process in diseases. The best-understood mechanism of neuronal cell death is apoptosis, which is regulated by an evolutionarily conserved cellular pathway that consists of the caspase family, the Bcl-2 family, and the adaptor protein Apaf-1. Apoptosis, however, may not be the only cellular mechanism that regulates neuronal cell death. Neuronal cell death may exhibit morphological features of autophagy or necrosis, which differ from that of the canonical apoptosis. This review evaluates the evidence supporting the existence of alternative mechanisms of neuronal cell death and proposes the possible existence of an evolutionarily conserved pathway of necrosis.

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