Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) is a multifunctional cytokine, whose numerous cell and tissue activities include cell-cycle control, the regulation of early development, differentiation, extracellular matrix formation, hematopoesis, angiogenesis, chemotaxis, immune functions, and the induction of apoptosis. TGF-β-mediated growth inhibition and apoptosis can be correlated with its function as a tumor suppressor. The apoptosis-inducing capacity has been investigated in many cell types. Data from cell-culture experiments and in vivo studies argue for a pivotal role of TGF-β-mediated apoptosis in the maintenance of B- and T-cell homeostasis. The importance of TGF-β in the control of liver cell apoptosis and cell death of prostate epithelial cells has been confirmed in many studies. Inactivation of TGF-β in animal models via a knockout approach or neutralizing antibodies suggests that TGF-β-mediated apoptosis plays an important part during tissue formation and remodeling and during the phase of ontogenetic neuron death. The molecular mechanisms involved in these processes seem to involve the activation of SMAD proteins. Many studies have described an interaction of TGF-β with other signalinging cascades as exemplified by the requirement of AP1 transcription factor for the induction of apoptosis in liver cells. The aim of this review is (1) to summarize and classify data in the TGF-β apoptosis literature with respect to the affected cell types, (2) to provide insights into the intracellular mechanisms involved in TGF-β-mediated apoptosis, and (3) to set TGF-β-mediated apoptosis in a physiological context.
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