Historical Aspects of Physiological Cell Death Prior to Description of Apoptosis

  • Eugene P. Cronkite


Cell death as a physiological process was recognized in the early 1920’s. There is a large and rich literature on cell death in hematopoiesis, embryogenesis, immunology, cancer, after exposure of lymphocytes to ionizing radiation or cortisone. Cell death and its measurement has been an essential component in study of cell kinetics of all tissues in which cell turnover is evident.

The objective of this concise and incomplete review on cell death, prior to emergence of the term apoptosis, was to document that non-necrotic cell death in normal and pathologic processes has been appreciated for several decades. When it was discovered that several tissues in the adult continued to have mitoses and that with each mitosis there was a net gain of one cell it was self-evident that there had to be a compensatory loss of cells by death, a process which might appropriately be called cytocide.

Cells are programmed to die in order to fashion organs during embryogenesis, to allow the development of the immune system, to maintain homeostasis in the endocrine-dependent tissues, to limit reactive hyperplasia, or to maintain a steady state in self-renewing tissues in addition to differentiation. Cell death is also a pathophysiological mechanism by which normal and malignant cells may die in response to ionizing radiation and/or chemotherapeutic drugs and toxic chemicals. In the landmark publication in 1972 by Kerr et al. (1) the term apoptosis was coined to dignify the phenomenon of cell death. After the coining of the name apoptosis and its cytological description and subsequently the identification of its genetic controls, opened the flood gates for a torrent of publications on apoptosis. There were eight publications in 1980 and 800 in 1993. Publications continued to expand in ’94 and’95.


Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Tritiated Thymidine Historical Aspect Compensatory Loss Clonal Selection Theory 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eugene P. Cronkite
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Medical DepartmentBrookhaven National LaboratoryUptonUSA
  2. 2.Medical DepartmentBrookhaven National LaboratoryUptonUSA

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