, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 549–569 | Cite as

Cell death in the skin

  • Saskia Lippens
  • Esther Hoste
  • Peter Vandenabeele
  • Patrizia Agostinis
  • Wim Declercq
Cell Death and Disease


The skin is the largest organ of the body and protects the organism against external physical, chemical and biological insults, such as wounding, ultraviolet radiation and micro-organisms. The epidermis is the upper part of the skin that is continuously renewed. The keratinocytes are the major cell type in the epidermis and undergo a specialized form of programmed cell death, called cornification, which is different from classical apoptosis. In keep with this view, several lines of evidence indicate that NF-kB is an important factor providing protection against keratinocyte apoptosis in homeostatic and inflammatory conditions. In contrast, the hair follicle is an epidermal appendage that shows cyclic apoptosis-driven involution, as part of the normal hair cycle. The different cell death programs need to be well orchestrated to maintain skin homeostasis. One of the major environmental insults to the skin is UVB radiation, causing the occurrence of apoptotic sunburn cells. Deregulation of cell death mechanisms in the skin can lead to diseases such as cancer, necrolysis and graft-versus-host disease. Here we review the apoptotic and the anti-apoptotic mechanisms in skin homeostasis and disease.


Skin Apoptosis Survival Keratinocytes UV Cancer 



We thank A. Bredan for editing the manuscript. This research has been supported by Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and several grants. European grants: FP6 ApopTrain, MRTN-CT-035624; EC RTD Integrated Project, FP6 Epistem, LSHB-CT-2005-019067; EC RTD Integrated Project, Apo-Sys, FP7-200767. Belgian grants: Interuniversity attraction poles, IAP 6/18. Flemish grants: Fonds Wetenschappelijke Onderzoek Vlaanderen, 3G.0218.06 and G.0133.05; Ghent University grants: BOF-GOA -12.0505.02. S.L. holds a grant of the ‘Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek’. E.H. holds a grant of the ‘Instituut voor de Aanmoediging van Innovatie door Wetenschap en Technologie’ in Vlaanderen’.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saskia Lippens
    • 1
    • 2
  • Esther Hoste
    • 1
    • 2
  • Peter Vandenabeele
    • 1
    • 2
  • Patrizia Agostinis
    • 3
  • Wim Declercq
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Molecular Signaling and Cell Death Unit, Department for Molecular Biomedical ResearchVIBGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical Molecular BiologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Department Molecular and Cell Biology, Faculty of MedicineCatholic University of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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