Education And Debate

Does apoptosis have a role in neurodegeneration?

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 23 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1539
  1. Rosemary M Gibson, research fellow (
  1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PT

    Cells within the central nervous system die during both acute and chronic neurodegenerative disorders. Since the morphological and biochemical features of apoptosis were first described, neuroscientists have been asking whether this cell death is due to apoptosis and whether elucidating the mechanisms of apoptosis can provide new treatment strategies for intractable diseases such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and Huntington's disease.

    Detecting apoptosis

    Much debate has ensued. Firstly, cell death in the central nervous system may not fit perfectly with our current classification of apoptosis and necrosis, which was defined using peripheral cells. Some of the methods used may not distinguish conclusively between apoptosis and necrosis. For example, transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labelling (TUNEL), a staining method that detects the broken ends of DNA within cells, is used to provide evidence of apoptosis. However, …

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