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Means to an End: Apoptosis and Other Cell Death Mechanisms

Subject Area(s):  Developmental BiologyCell BiologyMolecular BiologyCancer Biology

By Douglas R. Green, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

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© 2011 • 220 pp., additional reading, index
Hardcover •
ISBN  978-0-879698-87-4

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One million cells in our bodies die every second—they commit suicide by a mechanism known as apoptosis. Apoptosis is essential for survival of the body as a whole and has critical roles in various developmental processes and the immune system.

In Means To An End, Douglas Green provides a clear and comprehensive view of apoptosis and other cell death mechanisms. Taking a bottom-up approach, he starts with the enzymes that perform the execution process (a family of proteases termed caspases) and examines their cellular targets and the ways in which they are activated. He then looks at the molecular machinery that links signals that cause cell death to caspases, emphasizing the importance of the BCL-2 family of proteins and the role of cytochrome c released from mitochondria. The final stage of the process, phagocytic removal of dead or dying cells, is also covered.

Green outlines the roles of apoptosis and death mechanisms such as necrosis in embryogenesis, neuronal selection, and the development of self-tolerance in the immune system. In addition, he explains how cell death defends the body against cancer and traces the evolutionary origins of the apoptosis machinery back over a billion years. The book is thus of great use to all biologists interested in how cells function in the context of multicellular organisms and will appeal to everyone from undergraduates encountering the topic for the first time to researchers actively working in the field.


Foreword, by Martin Raff
1. A Matter of Life and Death
2. Caspases and Their Substrates
3. Caspase Activation and Inhibition
4. The Mitochondrial Pathway of Apoptosis, Part I: MOMP and Beyond
5. The Mitochondrial Pathway of Apoptosis, Part II: The BCL-2 Protein Family
6. The Death Receptor Pathway of Apoptosis
7. Other Caspase Activation Platforms
8. Nonapoptotic Cell Death Pathways
9. The Burial: Clearance and Consequences
10. Cell Death in Development
11. Cell Death and Cancer
12. The Future of Death
Figure Credits
Additional Reading


review:  “This book gracefully covers a wide variety of subjects and, in my opinion, distills our knowledge of cell death into an accessible text that is both enjoyable to read and appropriate for a broad audience.

Green covers more territory than many specialized books and does this by elimination of detail. Because of this approach, the book is a must read for students, clinicians, and experts in other fields wanting to learn more about cell death. Although the content may be very familiar to experts in the field, my suspicion is that they too will enjoy and benefit from reading this entertaining book.”

review:  “Green (St Jude Children’s Research Hospital) provides a comprehensive look at the current understanding of the multilayered processes by which cells in the body die...Means to an End is a complex — but improbably thrilling — read that manages to convey not only the hard work associated with cell biology but also the joy of its eureka moments.”

review:  “...(the book) is composed in a simple and accessible way, with an evenness and homogeneity in style and presentation, and the field is captured in 200 concise pages with informative illustrations....As a leader in the field of cell death since the late 1980s, Dr. Green’s contribution has been pivotal, particularly in defining the process of activation-induced apoptosis in T cells....We cannot do better than echo the words of Martin Raff, one of the founders of the cell death field, in his Foreword: ‘[This] complexity has created a pressing need for a comprehensive stock taking — a cool, clear, overview of cell death that cuts through the detail in a logical and engaging way. Doug Green has achieved all of this admirably.’ ...any student, medic, mature biologist, or even an interested layman would be attracted and inspired by this book, as it provides both a solid basis to those entering the field as well as a fresh and provocative viewpoint for the cognoscenti.”
      —Cell Death and Differentiation

review:  “This is an important publication for researchers on the fringes of the cell death field, or anyone who wants a more global perspective on apoptosis. The book covers research from chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology, developmental biology, neurobiology, immunology, and cancer biology, and is able to explain complex experiments in an accessible way. After reading, anyone will develop a more comprehensive understanding of the numerous scientific fields involved in studying the mechanisms and importance of apoptosis.”
      —The Quarterly Review of Biology