The death of cells in tissues of humans and other multicellular organisms
is neither always abnormal nor always detrimental. Although necrosis ensues
at the sites of massive cellular injury, most cells in the body die through
a more subtle, noninflammatory, energy-dependent form of cell death called apoptosis. The number of cells in tissues is determined
by the homeostatic balance between proliferation of new cells and death of
senescent cells; the rates of proliferation and apoptosis vary widely from
tissue to tissue. Recent research into the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis
has revealed that apoptosis is a genetically programmed process that can become
deranged when the components of the cellular apoptotic machinery are mutated
or present in inappropriate quantities. Dysregulation of apoptosis is associated
with the pathogenesis of a wide array of diseases: cancer, neurodegeneration,
autoimmunity, heart disease, and other disorders. Products of genes involved
in the regulation and execution of apoptosis are potentially excellent targets
for diagnosis and therapeutic intervention in disease processes, and they
offer renewed hope for cures and treatments for a wide array of maladies.
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