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Keywords:

  • apoptosis;
  • intestinal epithelium

Abstract

Apoptosis is now recognized as an important process responsible for maintenance of the cellular balance between proliferation and death. Apoptosis is distinct from necrosis in that it is a programmed form of cell death and occurs without any accompanying inflammation. This form of cell death can be induced by a wide range of cellular signals, which leads to activation of cell death machinery within the cell and is characterized by distinct morphological changes. Apoptosis is especially relevant in the gastrointestinal tract, as the mammalian intestinal mucosa undergoes a process of continual cell turnover that is essential for maintenance of normal function. Cell proliferation is confined to the crypts, while differentiation occurs during a rapid, orderly migration up to the villus. The differentiated enterocytes, which make up the majority of the cells, then undergo a process of programmed cell death (apoptosis). Although apoptosis is essential for the maintenance of normal gut epithelial function, dysregulated apoptosis is seen in a number of pathological conditions in the gastrointestinal tract. The cellular mechanisms regulating this tightly regimented process have not been clearly defined and this topic represents an area of active investigation as delineation of this process will lead to a better understanding of normal gut mucosal growth.