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The process of apoptosis, often coined programmed cell death, involves cell injury induced by a variety of stimuli including xenobiotics and is morphologically, biochemically, and physiologically distinct from necrosis. Apoptotic death is characterized by cellular changes such as cytoplasm shrinkage, chromatin condensation, and plasma membrane asymmetry. This form of cell suicide is appealing as a general biomarker of response in that it is expressed in multiple cell systems (e.g. immune, neuronal, hepatal, intestinal, dermal, reproductive), is conserved phylogenetically (e.g. fish, rodents, birds, sheep, amphibians, roundworms, plants, humans), is modulated by environmentally relevant levels of chemical contaminants, and indicates a state of stress of the organism. Further, apoptosis is useful as a biomarker as it serves as a molecular control point and hence may provide mechanistic information on xenobiotic stress. Studies reviewed here suggest that apoptosis is a sensitive and early indicator of acute and chronic chemical stress, loss of cellular function and structure, and organismal health. Examples are provided of the application of this methodology in studies of health of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) in the Laurentian Great Lakes.
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Xenobiotic-induced apoptosis: significance and potential application as a general biomarker of response