Int. J. Dev. Biol. 59: 11 - 22 (2015)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.150220zz
© UPV/EHU Press

What cell death does in development

Zahra Zakeri1, Carlos G. Penaloza1,2, Kyle Smith1, Yixia Ye1 and Richard A. Lockshin1,3

1Queens College and Graduate Center, Department of Biology, City University of New York, NY, and 2Schenectady County Community College, State University of New York, NY and 3St. John's University, NY, USA

ABSTRACT Cell death is prominent in gametogenesis and shapes and sculpts embryos. In non-mammalian embryos one sees little or no cell death prior to the maternal-zygotic transition, but, in mammalian embryos, characteristic deaths of one or two cells occur at the end of compaction and are apparently necessary for the separation of the trophoblast from the inner cell mass. Considerable sculpting of the embryo occurs by cell deaths during organogenesis, and appropriate cell numbers, especially in the CNS and in the immune system, are generated by massive overproduction of cells and selection of a few, with death of the rest. The timing, identity, and genetic control of specific cells that die have been well documented in Caenorhabditis, but in other embryos the stochastic nature of the deaths limit our ability to do more than identify the regions in which cells will die. Complete disruption of the cell death machinery can be lethal, but many mutations of the regulatory machinery yield only modest or no phenotypes, indicating substantial redundancy and compensation of regulatory mechanisms. Most of the deaths are apoptotic and are identified by techniques used to recognize apoptosis, but techniques identifying lysosomes (whether in dying or involuting cells or in the phagocytes that invade the tissue) also reveal patterns of cell death. Aberrant cell deaths that produce known phenotypes are typically localized, indicating that the mechanism of activating a programmed death in a specific region, rather than the mechanism of death, is aberrant. These results lead us to conclude that we need to know much more about the conversations among cells that lead cells to commit suicide.


apoptosis, autophagy, caspase, necrosis, programmed cell death

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