Neurons die all the time--routinely during nervous system development and to a limited extent in healthy adults. But understanding exactly how they die under less-than-ideal conditions could be the key to treating a number of neurological maladies--from stroke and brain trauma to neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. As cell death research proliferates, much of it focused on cancer, investigators continue to debate the extent to which neurological ailments involve programmed cell death, or apoptosis--and what implications apoptosis may have for treatment.

Many apoptosis researchers view cell damage on a continuum of sorts: On one end, damage is limited and the cell is able to fully recover and maintain functionality. On the other, the cell dies by necrosis, an irreversible, passive, "unexpected" type of cell death not encoded by genes. Somewhere in the middle lies apoptosis in which, after an orderly, "planned" cell death, the body's immune system...

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