Research NewsApoptosis

Death by Dozens of Cuts

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Science  03 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5360, pp. 32-34
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5360.32

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Although cell biologists have known for years that cells have within them a program that can cause them to commit suicide, only recently have they been able to get at the heart of that machinery: a group of protein-cutting enzymes called caspases that have the ultimate job of dismantling the cell. Work done in the past few years is beginning to show how the caspases are turned on, how they work, and what their cellular targets are--information that may help develop better therapies for diseases where this programmed cell death (also called apoptosis) has gone awry. Many cancers, for instance, are hard to kill because they fail to respond to apoptosis signals, while in neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease, or following the oxygen starvation caused by stroke, excess apoptosis may kill brain neurons.