by Jason Wasserman MD PhD FRCPC
May 26, 2022

What does apoptosis mean?

Apoptosis is a type of cell death. It is also called programmed cell death because the cells follow a set of instructions that tell them how to die. These instructions allow the cell to die without causing inflammation or damaging any of the healthy cells around it. Apoptosis is very different from another type of cell death called necrosis. In necrosis, the cell dies very quickly which can damage nearby healthy cells. Necrosis can also cause inflammation.

Why does apoptosis happen?

Over time, all healthy cells age and become damaged. Apoptosis is a process that allows the body to remove these old and damaged cells. In other circumstances, the body uses this process to get rid of cells that are no longer needed. For example, apoptosis is very common in developing embryos.

What does apoptosis look like under the microscope?

Cells undergoing apoptosis become smaller and eventually break up into many small pieces called apoptotic bodies. These pieces are then removed by immune cells such as macrophages or histiocytes.


A+ A A-