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Br J Cancer. 1992 Apr;65(4):552-8.

The nature of cytotoxic drug-induced cell death in murine intestinal crypts.

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Department of Histopathology, Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK.


The nature of cell death in murine small intestinal crypts caused by potentially lethal doses of four classes of cancer chemotherapeutic agents was studied. The drugs used were cytosine arabinoside, vincristine, adriamycin and nitrogen mustard. The compounds readily induced massive cell death in the proliferating compartment of the crypt. In each case, cell death was apparent within an hour, and the incidence of dead cells peaked during the following 4-8 h. By 24 h, little damage was discernible in the crypt systems. Remarkably, dead cells or dead cell fragments were phagocytosed rapidly (within about 1 h) by neighbouring healthy enterocytes. When examined by light microscopy, transmission electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy, the dead cells showed the characteristic features of having succumbed to an apoptotic mode of cell death without any trace of cell and organelle oedema characteristic of necrosis. The study suggests that cell death by apoptosis operates even when the cells are exposed to severe pathological perturbation and that the phenomenon is not solely a process which operates in response to either physiological stimuli or to mild physical or chemical trauma.

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