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Apoptosis is recognised increasingly as a prominent event in nervous system development and disease. This form of death appears to obey the same rules in neurones as in other cells, in that it is initiated by similar extracellular perturbations and distinguished by similar morphological and biochemical changes. When neurones die after survival factor withdrawal, gene transcription is important, with the transcription factor c-jun and the cytoplasmic signalling cascade that regulates it being particularly significant in at least some types of cells. However, death can be induced in a transcription-independent manner by agents such as staurosporine. Both types of death involve activation of members of the ICE family of proteases but, surprisingly, the particular protease involved seems to depend very much on the manner in which death is initiated.