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Anat Embryol (Berl). 1996 Feb;193(2):81-99.

Nineteenth century research on naturally occurring cell death and related phenomena.

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Institute of Anatomy, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.


Research on naturally occurring cell death is older than current opinion gives credit. More than 100 nineteenth century publications deal with it, and we review most of these. Soon after the establishment of the cell theory by Schleiden and Schwann, Carl Vogt (1842) reported cell death in the notochord and adjacent cartilage of metamorphic toads. Subsequent landmark discoveries included the massive cell death that occurs in pupating diptera (Weismann 1864), chondrocyte death during endochondral ossification (Stieda 1872), phagocytosis associated with cell death in the muscles of metamorphic toads (Metschnikoff 1883), chromatolytic (apoptotic) cell death in ovarian follicles (Flemming 1885), the reinterpretation of "Sarkoplasten" as "Sarkolyten" in metamorphic amphibia (Mayer 1886), the programmed loss of an entire population of neurons in fish embryos (Beard 1889), the death of scattered myocytes and myofibres in mammalian muscle (Felix 1889), and the death of many motor and sensory neurons in chick embryos (Collin 1906). Other lines of nineteenth century research established concepts important for understanding cell death, notably trophic interactions between neurons and their targets, and intercellular competition.

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