World Wide Words logo


Pronounced /ˌæpɒpˈtəʊsɪs/Help with IPA

The process by which cells naturally self-destruct in the body, also known as programmed cell death. An understanding of the mechanisms by which cells are instructed to remain alive or die has profound implications for finding cures for cancerous conditions and auto-immune diseases. Recently researchers have found the genes which cause cell death in some simple organisms and New Scientist has reported on research which shows how the drug cisplatin cures testicular cancer by blocking repair mechanisms that prevent apoptosis. It is also becoming clear that the lifetime of a cell is linked to the presence of lengths of genetic material called telomeres, a short section of which is lost each time a cell divides. Apoptosis is formed from the Greek prefix apo-, “off, from, away; at an extreme”, which turns up in words like apocalypse and apogee; this is linked to the Greek ptosis, “a falling in or upon (something)” which appears as a word by itself in medical language for a prolapse and in a few other rather rare compounds, including Samuel Becket’s panpygoptosis for Duck’s disease.

Page created 24 Aug. 1996
Last updated 11 Feb. 1998

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 11 February 1998.