Programmed Cell Death Apoptosis

Development of a multicellular creature requires not only cell differentiation, but in some cases, cell death. Apoptosis helps create the spaces between the fingers, for instance. During brain development, nerve connections are sculpted through the apoptotic death of billions of cells. In C. elegans, exactly 131 cells die by apoptosis.

Cells can be directed to the apoptotic pathway if they fail to receive appropriate signals from their neighbors. In this way, it is thought that cells in the wrong location—a bone cell in the gut, for instance—might


be terminated to prevent damage to the organism. The death program itself is carried out within the cell by activation of specific genes that ultimately trigger proteases, which are enzymes that break down cell contents, including the chromosomes. see also Apoptosis; Fruit Fly: Drosophila; Roundworm: Caenorhabditis elegans; Transcription Factors; Transgenic Organisms; Zebrafish.

Richard Robinson


Alberts, Bruce, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 3rd ed. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.

De Robertis, E. M., G. Oliver, and C. V. Wright. "Homeobox Genes and the Vertebrate Body Plan." Scientific American 263, no. 1 (1990): 46-52.

Gehring, Walter F. Master Control Genes in Development and Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Gilbert, Scott F. Developmental Biology, 5th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1997.


Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases characterized by elevated levels of glucose in the blood. Diabetes is caused by problems producing or responding to the hormone insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas by specialized cells called beta cells, in response to the presence of glucose absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract following a meal. Insulin promotes the uptake of glucose into muscle and fat cells, and it promotes the storage of excess glucose in the liver.

Excess blood glucose over time damages organs, particularly the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, and blood vessels. It is the leading cause of adult blindness, end-stage kidney disease, and lower limb amputations, and it is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Diabetes is classified into four major groups: type 1 diabetes (T1DM), type 2 diabetes (T2DM), other specific types, and gestational diabetes (GDM), occurring during pregnancy. Approximately 5 percent to 8 percent of the people of the industrialized world have diabetes, mostly (approximately 90 percent) type 2, which at least 16 million Americans have.

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