We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Apoptosis?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Apoptosis is the term used to describe the generally normal death of the cell in living organisms. Since new cells regenerate, cell death is a normal and constant process in the body. Human embryos, for example, have far more cells than do adult humans. As the embryo develops, certain cells are selected for execution so that normal development takes place. When these cells do not go through apoptosis, they may cause deformity in the growing embryo.

This term should not be confused with necrosis, cell death through disease or infection. Apoptosis is part of the cell’s function in the organism. When the processes are incomplete, this can lead to the development of both benign and malignant tumors, for instance.

Apoptosis has several distinct stages. In the first stage, the cell starts to become round as a result of the protein in the cell being eaten by enzymes that become active. Next, the DNA in the nucleus starts to come apart and shrink down. The membrane surrounding the nucleus begins to degrade and ultimately no longer forms the usual layer.

As the nucleus of the cell is no longer protected, the cell’s DNA breaks in uneven fragments. The nucleus is now broken into many bodies with uneven quantities of DNA. The cell itself goes through a process called blebbing, where parts of the cell begin to break off. Finally, the cell is completely broken into pieces and is consumed by small cells that are called phagocytes.

There is danger if this final step of phagocytic digestion in apoptosis is not completed. Undigested cell fragments can accumulate in the body and have been shown to cause death in mouse embryos and mouse neonates.

Apoptosis can occur because of signals inside the cell (intrinsic), or signals outside the cell (extrinsic). When it's caused by intrinsic signals, it may be the result of lack of sufficient nutrition to the cell or damage to the DNA in the nucleus. Extrinsic apoptosis may occur in response to a virus, or treatments like chemotherapy. Sometimes, a cell initiates the process in an attempt to fight a virus, like HIV.

The study of apoptosis has become quite important, and most of our current understanding of cell death is the result of studies conducted in the 1990s and in present day. Being able to induce cell death is desirable, for example, when attempting to kill tumor tissue. As well, understanding how the process works furthers research on the study of stem cells and their possible applications in medicine.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On May 19, 2012

@simrin-- Actually radiotherapy is not really any better than chemotherapy when it comes to apoptosis. The truth is that all cancer treatments can and do cause damage to cells' DNA. And if the cells can't repair themselves, apoptosis becomes inevitable. That's a risk that comes with all cancer therapies.

And to some extent, we wish that all cells were that vulnerable to apoptosis. Some people actually have an apoptosis gene which prevents some cells from dying. This is a huge problem if that same cell is diseased and mutated. It's one of the problems that doctors are dealing with right now. This gene and these undying cells cause anti-cancer treatments to fail.

So apoptosis is a good thing. It's vital for us.

By turquoise — On May 19, 2012

@simrin-- In regards to your HIV example, I think the difference is that the apoptosis there is by immune dysfunction whereas necrosis is triggered by disease.

With necrosis, the cell dies because it becomes affected by the disease itself, it's not the programmed activity of the cell. In apoptosis, the cell dies because the body tells it to. Under normal circumstances, this is normal and good. But when there is a disease with causes the immune system to dysfunction, such as HIV, then apoptosis is triggered when it's not supposed to be.

This is why HIV positive individuals are treated with apoptosis inhibitors. The HIV causes healthy T-cells to die off which further weakens the immune system. Apoptosis inhibitors limit and prevent this from happening.

I hope this made sense.

By SteamLouis — On May 18, 2012

How come the extrinsic apoptosis mechanism is not considered necrosis? HIV or cancer is a disease too. How is it that extrinsic apoptosis in reaction to HIV for example is normal and desirable whereas necrosis in response to HIV is not?

I'm glad the article mentions chemotherapy. I do not approve of chemotherapy for exactly this reason, that it causes apoptosis- the death of healthy cells in the body. Medical professionals find this to be a small price to pay for the destruction of cancerous cells.

But just as the article mentioned, there are downsides to apoptosis too, especially if the leftover fragments of the cell are not consumed. Since chemotherapy is basically an uncontrolled method of killing cancer cells unlike treatments like radiotherapy, I think the risks associated with excessive apoptosis is fairly large.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.