Annals of Hematology

, Volume 84, Issue 10, pp 627–639 | Cite as

Apoptosis: mechanisms and relevance in cancer

  • Katrien Vermeulen
  • Dirk R. Van Bockstaele
  • Zwi N. Berneman
Review Article

Abstract

Apoptosis or programmed cell death is a process with typical morphological characteristics including plasma membrane blebbing, cell shrinkage, chromatin condensation and fragmentation. A family of cystein-dependent aspartate-directed proteases, called caspases, is responsible for the proteolytic cleavage of cellular proteins leading to the characteristic apoptotic features, e.g. cleavage of caspase-activated DNase resulting in internucleosomal DNA fragmentation. Currently, two pathways for activating caspases have been studied in detail. One starts with ligation of a death ligand to its transmembrane death receptor, followed by recruitment and activation of caspases in the death-inducing signalling complex. The second pathway involves the participation of mitochondria, which release caspase-activating proteins into the cytosol, thereby forming the apoptosome where caspases will bind and become activated. In addition, two other apoptotic pathways are emerging: endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced apoptosis and caspase-independent apoptosis. Naturally occurring cell death plays a critical role in many normal processes like foetal development and tissue homeostasis. Dysregulation of apoptosis contributes to many diseases, including cancer. On the other hand, apoptosis-regulating proteins also provide targets for drug discovery and new approaches to the treatment of cancer.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katrien Vermeulen
    • 1
  • Dirk R. Van Bockstaele
    • 1
  • Zwi N. Berneman
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Medicine, Laboratory of Experimental Hematology, Antwerp University HospitalUniversity of AntwerpEdegemBelgium

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