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Cell death is clearly an important factor in development, homeostasis, pathology and in aging, but medical efforts based on controlling cell death have not become major aspects of medicine. There are several reasons why hopes have been slow to be fulfilled, and they present indications for new directions in research. Most effort has focused on the machinery of cell death, or the proximate effectors of apoptosis and their closely associated and interacting proteins. But cells have many options other than apoptosis. These include autophagy, necrosis, atrophy and stepwise or other alternate means of self-disassembly. The response of a cell to a noxious or otherwise intimidating signal will depend heavily on the history, lineage and current status of the cell. Many metabolic and other processes adjust the sensitivity of cells to signals, and viruses aggressively attempt to regulate the death of their host cells. Another complicating factor is that many deathassociated proteins may have functions totally unrelated to their role in cell death, generating the possibility of undesirable side effects if one interferes with them. In the future, the challenge will be more to understand the challenge to the cell from a more global standpoint, including many more aspects of metabolism, and work toward alleviating or provoking the challenge in a targeted fashion.


This work was originally published in Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine , available at doi:10.1111/j.1582-4934.2007.00150.x.



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