In multicellular organisms, homeostasis is maintained through a balance between cell proliferation and cell death. Although much is known about the control of cell proliferation, less is known about the control of cell death. Physiologic cell death occurs primarily through an evolutionarily conserved form of cell suicide termed apoptosis. The decision of a cell to undergo apoptosis can be influenced by a wide variety of regulatory stimuli. Recent evidence suggests that alterations in cell survival contribute to the pathogenesis of a number of human diseases, including cancer, viral infections, autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Treatments designed to specifically alter the apoptotic threshold may have the potential to change the natural progression of some of these diseases.
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