Programmed cell death (PCD), or apoptosis, is an integral component of C. elegans development. During development, 131 cells are fated to die by apoptosis. PCD is easily observed with Nomarski optics in the C. elegans embryo; the nucleus of the apoptotic cell becomes refractile, resembling a flat button, making C. elegans an easy model for following apoptotic cell death. PCD in C. elegans can be divided into three main phases (with participating genes): specification of which cells should live or die (ces-1
, in general); activation of the cell killing machinery (egl-1
); and an execution phase where the dying cell is dismantled and removed through phagocytosis (ced-1
), which occurs in concert with apoptotic DNA degradation (cps-6
). Molecular and biochemical studies in C. elegans revealed programmed cell death mechanisms conserved in humans. The regulatory pathway that controls cell death is composed of conserved cell death activators and inhibitors: EGL-1 and BH3-domain-only proteins, CED-9 and Bcl-2, CED-4 and Apaf-1, and CED-3 and caspases, in nematodes and mammals, respectively. Further the degradation of chromosomal DNA involves a mitochondrial proapoptotic endonuclease: endonuclease G (EndoG), and AIF in mammals and their orthologs CPS-6 and WAH-1 in worms.