In new 'book of death,' Doug Green provides broad and engaging overview of apoptosis

November 02, 2010

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. (Nov. 2, 2010) - One million cells in our bodies die every second - they commit suicide by a mechanism known as apoptosis. Prof. Douglas Green, a leading figure in the field of cell death since the late 1980s, provides a clear and comprehensive view of apoptosis in his new book, Means to an End: Apoptosis and Other Cell Death Mechanisms.

"All you need to know about cell death is covered here, with panache," writes Martin Raff, Emeritus Professor in the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at University College London, in the Foreword to the book. "[It is] a cool, clear overview of cell death that cuts through the detail in a logical and engaging way while making it clear where controversy and mystery remain."

Apoptosis is essential for survival of the body as a whole and has critical roles in various developmental processes and the immune system. In describing apoptosis, Green takes a bottom-up approach, starting 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 field has reached an interesting point at which I believe we have a reasonable understanding of the processes that are central to or consequences of cell death and its regulation," writes Green in the book's Preface. "I wrote this book primarily for students and informed individuals who would like to learn more about cell death."

Means to an End will thus be 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.
The book has just been published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. The companion website ( contains lists of recommended readings and resources, as well as a series of videos. The first video, in which Green briefly describes physical changes that occur to a cell during apoptosis, an example of apoptosis during development, and how mitochondria function as "suicide capsules," is available here:

About the book:Means to an End: Apoptosis and Other Cell Death Mechanisms was written by Douglas R. Green (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital) and published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (© 2011). It is available in hardcover (ISBN 978-0-879698-87-4) and paperback (ISBN 978-0-879698-88-1), and is 220 pp. in length (6 1/2" × 9"). For more information, see

About the author: Prof. Douglas Green has been Chair of the Department of Immunology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital since 2005. Prior to that, he was Director of the Division of Cellular Immunology at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, where he worked for 15 years. Prof. Green has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of activation-induced apoptosis in T cells, the role of the oncogene Myc in driving apoptosis, the ability of BCL-2 proteins to block cell death, the functions of death receptors in cell death and the immune system, and the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis--publishing over 400 papers along the way. His current research focuses on mitochondrial physiology in cell survival and cell death, the functions of the BCL-2 family, and other aspects of cell death.

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is an internationally renowned publisher of books, journals, and electronic media, located on Long Island, New York. Since 1933, it has furthered the advance and spread of scientific knowledge in all areas of genetics and molecular biology, including cancer biology, plant science, bioinformatics, and neurobiology. It is a division of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an innovator in life science research and the education of scientists, students, and the public. For more information, visit

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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