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Pronounced /ˌæpɒpˈtəʊsɪs/Help with pronunciation

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.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 24 Aug 1996; Last updated 11 Feb 1998