Editorials

Why is apoptosis important to clinicians?

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7301.1499 (Published 23 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1499

Because its mechanisms are being used to develop drugs

  1. Chris Haslett (C.Haslett@ed.ac.uk), head, division of clinical sciences and community health,
  2. John Savill, director, MRC Centre for Inflammation Research
  1. University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH3 9YW

    See Clinical review pp 1525-31 Education and debate pp 1536-40

    Apoptosis—programmed cell death—was discovered in 1972,1 and now that it approaches its 30th birthday its clinical importance is becoming clear. The excitement of apoptosis for doctors lies in the clinical implications of perturbed-restored control of cell number and function through a balance between cell death and cell survival.

    Apoptosis may become disrupted in two major ways, and, as predicted over 20 years ago,2 each seems to be associated with different types of disease. Inappropriate activation of the apoptotic process leads to disorders associated with pathological loss of cells—such as the immune defect in AIDS and possibly neurodegenerative diseases. In contrast, inadequate apoptosis, leading to inappropriate cell survival, leads to diseases associated with excessive accumulations of cells—such as cancer, chronic inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune diseases.

    The defect in immunity associated with AIDS is the result of a profound reduction in the population size of CD4 + T …

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