The Pathways of Cell Death: Oncosis, Apoptosis, and Necrosis
Benjamin E Trump, Irene K. Berezesky, Seung H. Chang, and Patricia C. Phelps
The pathways and identification of cell injury and cell death are of key importance to the practice of diagnostic and research toxicologic pathology. Following a lethal injury, cellular reactions are initially reversible. Currently, we recognize two patterns, oncosis and apoptosis. Oncosis, derived from the Greek word “swelling,” is the common pattern of change in infarcts and in zonal killing following chemical toxicity, e.g., centrilobular hepatic necrosis after CC14 toxicity. In this common reaction, the earliest changes involve cytoplasmic blebbing, dilatation of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), swelling of the cytosol, normal or condensed mitochondria, and chromatin clumping in the nucleus. In apoptosis, the early changes involve cell shrinkage, cytosolic shrinkage, more marked chromatin clumping, cytoplasmic blebbing, swollen ER on occasion, and mitochondria that are normal or condensed. Following cell death, both types undergo postmortem changes collectively termed “necrosis.” In the case of oncosis, this typically involves broad zones of cells while, in the case of apoptosis, the cells and/or the fragments are often phagocytized prior to their death by adjacent macrophages or parenchymal cells. In either case, the changes converge to a pattern that involves mitochondrial swelling, mitochondrial flocculent densities and/or calcification, karyolysis, and disruption of plasmalemmal continuity. The biochemical mechanisms of cell death are currently under intense study, particularly concerning the genes involved in the process. Pro-death genes include p53, the ced-3/ICE proteases, and the Bax family. Anti-death genes include ced-9/Bcl-2 and the adenovirus protein E1B. It is clear that ion deregulation, particularly that of [2 1]C+a plays an important role in cell death following either apoptosis or oncosis. Genetic evidence strongly indicates that activation of proteases is an important step, possibly very near to the point where cell death occurs.