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History of Apoptosis Research

  1. Lijing Jiang

Published Online: 15 JUN 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023954



How to Cite

Jiang, L. 2012. History of Apoptosis Research. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Arizona State University, Center for Biology and Society, Tempe, Arizona, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUN 2012


Apoptosis-like cell death was first observed in developing tissues using histological methods in the mid-nineteenth century. Having been frequently rejected as experimental artefacts, such biologically active, well-regulated cell death phenomena were reconfirmed in various research contexts during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1972, three pathologists observed cell death in pathological tissues and coined the term ‘apoptosis’ to distinguish the concept of physiological cell death from the concept of passive cell death, necrosis. In the 1980s and 1990s, modern molecular biotechnology transformed apoptosis research from a subject for mostly morphological investigation to a multivalent, interdisciplinary field important to developmental biology, biogerontology and cancer research.

Key Concepts:

  • Apoptosis is biologically active, well-regulated physiological cell death mechanism that is involved in development, tumour suppression, tissue homoeostasis and degenerative diseases.

  • Apoptosis was discovered and defined initially through its unique morphology.

  • The discovery of apoptosis in development challenged assumptions in embryology in the early twentieth century.

  • Molecular methods transformed apoptosis research into an important biological and biomedical field.


  • apoptosis;
  • programmed cell death;
  • embryology;
  • cell differentiation;
  • Caenorhabditis elegans;
  • cancer research;
  • caspase;
  • ced genes;
  • Bcl-2;
  • p53