The apoptosis mechanisms in a cell are like a type of 'self-destruction mechanism': is this correct?

As with any type of complex system with various necessary functions, if it has a set of self-destruction mechanisms for 'shutting down' the whole system, it would require some sort of 'internal programming' that can somehow 'target' each of the system's necessary functions and 'disrupt' each of them simultaneously or in some 'order'.

In other words a self-destruction system in order to be effective would have to be able to 'target' each necessary function in the system. And if a biological system has a mutation or a set of mutations that 'distort' some parts of the system then the self-destruct mechanisms might not be able to 'target' all of the functions.

So maybe the cellular mutation 'automatically' makes it hard or impossible for the self-destruct mechanisms to work. Is this possible??

  • $\begingroup$ Did you happen to look at any of the questions/answers tagged apoptosis? Why were they unhelpful? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ I wrote some of those questions. $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ @201044 Your question was hard to understand. I took the liberty to edit it. Let me know if it is fine. $\endgroup$
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure if I understand your question right. Are you asking how and what kind of mutation is disabling apoptosis? What do you mean by "it would require some sort of 'internal programming' that can somehow 'target' each of the system's necessary functions and 'disrupt' each of them simultaneously or in some 'order'."? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 11:02

1 Answer 1


Not at all. In order to self destruct, you don't need to disable all necessary functions, you just need to disable one. That's why the functions are called "essential". To take a very simple example, in every movie you've seen where the self destruct has been activated, that self destruct mechanism was almost certainly a bomb that blew the ship/installation/planet or whatever up. The self destruct did not go around disabling individual processes, it just activated a bomb and destroyed everything.

Apoptosis is quite similar. While there are many essential processes in a cell whose failure can activate apoptosis, the mechanism of apoptosis itself usually involves the straightforward destruction (lysis) of the cell. Simply put, the cell digests itself, breaking down its various constituent parts and, finally, destroying the cell membrane and breaking up the cell itself. For a summary see this Wikipedia page or here.

Briefly, when apoptosis is triggered, the caspase cascade is initialized which results in the breakdown of various proteins in the cell and, finally, in cell lysis. It really is analogous to setting of the bomb that destroys the facility of the bad guys.

  • $\begingroup$ That's a great point about only having to destroy one essential function. So is it true first comes at least one essential function failure then the apoptosis mechanism is triggered? Could some functional mutation that creates some different 'demands' on the cell make it so even if one or two essential functions are on the brink of failing the mutation masks this or makes these functions not as essential or somehow distorts necessary cellular system information so the apoptosis is not triggered? $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ If a cell or group of cell is reproducing and dividing a lot more than 'they' usually would if 'their' 'situation' was 'healthier' (because of cellular damage caused by an 'unstable' digestive system for example); if they are dividing and reproducing a lot and random mutations can cause cancer is it more likely the cells will develop some mutations if they are reproducing and dividing a lot 'more than normal'. And as such some of these mutations might shut down some important cell functions thus disrupting any apoptosis mechanism? $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ If a 'group' of cells divide and reproduce a lot more than usual would this increase the likelihood of mutations that could disrupt maybe some important cellular functions? $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ The apoptosis mechanism involves the failure of just one essential process , straightforward lysis; this seems simple yet how come in a cancerous cell such a 'shutting down doesn't work or can't be 'activated'. Do cancerous cells have all the essential functions that are normally found in the ' normal' versions of the cell ,yet they are still 'functioning adequately' in this cancerous 'version'? $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 3:23

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