Differences between necrosis and apoptosis

1.2 Differences between necrosis and apoptosis
There are many observable morphological (Figure 1, Table 1) and biochemical differences (Table 1) between necrosis and apoptosis2.

Necrosis occurs when cells are exposed to extreme variance from physiological conditions (e.g., hypothermia, hypoxia) which may result in damage to the plasma membrane. Under physiological conditions direct damage to the plasma membrane is evoked by agents like complement and lytic viruses.

Necrosis begins with an impairment of the cell’s ability to maintain homeostasis, leading to an influx of water and extracellular ions. Intracellular organelles, most notably the mitochondria, and the entire cell swell and rupture (cell lysis). Due to the ultimate breakdown of the plasma membrane, the cytoplasmic contents including lysosomal enzymes are released into the extracellular fluid. Therefore, in vivo, necrotic cell death is often associated with extensive tissue damage resulting in an intense inflammatory response5.

Apoptosis, in contrast, is a mode of cell death that occurs under normal physiological conditions and the cell is an active participant in its own demise (“cellular suicide”). It is most often found during normal cell turnover and tissue homeostasis, embryogenesis, induction and maintenance of immune tolerance, development of the nervous system and endocrine-dependent tissue atrophy.

Cells undergoing apoptosis show characteristic morphological and biochemical features6. These features include chromatin aggregation, nuclear and cytoplasmic condensation, partition of cytoplasm and nucleus into membrane bound-vesicles (apoptotic bodies) which contain ribosomes, morphologically intact mitochondria and nuclear material. In vivo, these apoptotic bodies are rapidly recognized and phagocytized by either macrophages or adjacent epithelial cells7. Due to this efficient mechanism for the removal of apoptotic cells in vivo no inflammatory response is elicited. In vitro, the apoptotic bodies as well as the remaining cell fragments ultimately swell and finally lyse. This terminal phase of in vitro cell death has been termed “secondary necrosis” (Figure 1).

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