The field of apoptosis has expanded to include research in almost all subject areas of cell biology. Despite this growth, there are still many unanswered questions, some of which are fundamental to the development of therapeutic strategies. Most importantly, the underlying mechanisms involved in conferring specificity of apoptotic signals must be determined. This will allow the development of treatments to delete injured or transformed cells and minimize damage to other tissues. Such information is also necessary to combat degenerative diseases, to prevent critical loss of cells. In addition, it would be of therapeutic benefit to selectively induce apoptosis in specific cells where removal of unwanted cells is required (e.g. tumour cells in malignant tissue or inflammatory cells responsible for tissue damage in chronic inflammatory disease). Therefore we have to understand how the full complement of signalling pathways, and survival and apoptotic proteins determine the end effect of an apoptotic signal. Apoptotic cells are known to functionally influence phagocytes that ingest them, but little is known of the effect of apoptosis on neighbouring cells or of signals generated during the apoptotic process itself. Although the processes of mitosis and apoptosis would appear to be diametrically opposed, cell-cycle proteins are involved in apoptosis, and may be able to influence cell-death mechanisms; conversely, proliferation may be caspase-dependent in some cells. Further study is necessary to discover how these pathways are interlinked since such knowledge would be particularly useful in cancer treatment. The link between pathogen-survival strategies and apoptotic mechanisms will also reward further work. Viruses, in particular, exploit cellular survival and death pathways for replication purposes and may represent a targeting approach for specific treatments.
- © 2003 The Biochemical Society