To the extent possible under law, AOP-Wiki has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to KE:55

Event: 55

Key Event Title

The KE title should describe a discrete biological change that can be measured. It should generally define the biological object or process being measured and whether it is increased, decreased, or otherwise definably altered relative to a control state. For example “enzyme activity, decreased”, “hormone concentration, increased”, or “growth rate, decreased”, where the specific enzyme or hormone being measured is defined. More help

Cell injury/death

Short name
The KE short name should be a reasonable abbreviation of the KE title and is used in labelling this object throughout the AOP-Wiki. The short name should be less than 80 characters in length. More help
Cell injury/death

Biological Context

Structured terms, selected from a drop-down menu, are used to identify the level of biological organization for each KE. Note, KEs should be defined within a particular level of biological organization. Only KERs should be used to transition from one level of organization to another. Selection of the level of biological organization defines which structured terms will be available to select when defining the Event Components (below). More help
Level of Biological Organization

Cell term

Further information on Event Components and Biological Context may be viewed on the attached pdf.The biological context describes the location/biological environment in which the event takes place.  For molecular/cellular events this would include the cellular context (if known), organ context, and species/life stage/sex for which the event is relevant. For tissue/organ events cellular context is not applicable.  For individual/population events, the organ context is not applicable. More help
Cell term
eukaryotic cell

Organ term

Further information on Event Components and Biological Context may be viewed on the attached pdf.The biological context describes the location/biological environment in which the event takes place.  For molecular/cellular events this would include the cellular context (if known), organ context, and species/life stage/sex for which the event is relevant. For tissue/organ events cellular context is not applicable.  For individual/population events, the organ context is not applicable. More help

Key Event Components

Further information on Event Components and Biological Context may be viewed on the attached pdf.Because one of the aims of the AOP-KB is to facilitate de facto construction of AOP networks through the use of shared KE and KER elements, authors are also asked to define their KEs using a set of structured ontology terms (Event Components). In the absence of structured terms, the same KE can readily be defined using a number of synonymous titles (read by a computer as character strings). In order to make these synonymous KEs more machine-readable, KEs should also be defined by one or more “event components” consisting of a biological process, object, and action with each term originating from one of 22 biological ontologies (Ives, et al., 2017; See List). Biological process describes dynamics of the underlying biological system (e.g., receptor signalling). The biological object is the subject of the perturbation (e.g., a specific biological receptor that is activated or inhibited). Action represents the direction of perturbation of this system (generally increased or decreased; e.g., ‘decreased’ in the case of a receptor that is inhibited to indicate a decrease in the signalling by that receptor).Note that when editing Event Components, clicking an existing Event Component from the Suggestions menu will autopopulate these fields, along with their source ID and description. To clear any fields before submitting the event component, use the 'Clear process,' 'Clear object,' or 'Clear action' buttons. If a desired term does not exist, a new term request may be made via Term Requests. Event components may not be edited; to edit an event component, remove the existing event component and create a new one using the terms that you wish to add. More help
Process Object Action
cell death increased

Key Event Overview

AOPs Including This Key Event

All of the AOPs that are linked to this KE will automatically be listed in this subsection. This table can be particularly useful for derivation of AOP networks including the KE. Clicking on the name of the AOP will bring you to the individual page for that AOP. More help
AOP Name Role of event in AOP Point of Contact Author Status OECD Status
ionotropic glutamatergic receptors and cognition KeyEvent Anna Price (send email) Open for citation & comment TFHA/WNT Endorsed
Binding of antagonist to NMDARs impairs cognition KeyEvent Anna Price (send email) Open for citation & comment TFHA/WNT Endorsed
Protein Alkylation to Liver Fibrosis KeyEvent Brigitte Landesmann (send email) Open for citation & comment TFHA/WNT Endorsed
Binding of antagonist to NMDARs can lead to neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration KeyEvent Florianne Tschudi-Monnet (send email) Open for citation & comment TFHA/WNT Endorsed
lysosomal uptake induced liver fibrosis KeyEvent Marina Kuburic (send email) Under development: Not open for comment. Do not cite EAGMST Under Review
Oxidative stress and Developmental impairment in learning and memory KeyEvent Marie-Gabrielle Zurich (send email) Under development: Not open for comment. Do not cite EAGMST Under Review
IKK complex inhibition leading to liver injury KeyEvent Nanette Vrijenhoek (send email) Under development: Not open for comment. Do not cite
AChE Inhibition Leading to Neurodegeneration KeyEvent Karen Watanabe (send email) Under development: Not open for comment. Do not cite
Mitochondrial complex inhibition leading to liver injury KeyEvent Wanda van der Stel (send email) Under development: Not open for comment. Do not cite


This is a structured field used to identify specific agents (generally chemicals) that can trigger the KE. Stressors identified in this field will be linked to the KE in a machine-readable manner, such that, for example, a stressor search would identify this as an event the stressor can trigger. NOTE: intermediate or downstream KEs in one AOP may function as MIEs in other AOPs, meaning that stressor information may be added to the KE description, even if it is a downstream KE in the pathway currently under development.Information concerning the stressors that may trigger an MIE can be defined using a combination of structured and unstructured (free-text) fields. For example, structured fields may be used to indicate specific chemicals for which there is evidence of an interaction relevant to this MIE. By linking the KE description to a structured chemical name, it will be increasingly possible to link the MIE to other sources of chemical data and information, enhancing searchability and inter-operability among different data-sources and knowledgebases. The free-text section “Evidence for perturbation of this MIE by stressor” can be used both to identify the supporting evidence for specific stressors triggering the MIE as well as to define broad chemical categories or other properties that classify the stressors able to trigger the MIE for which specific structured terms may not exist. More help

Taxonomic Applicability

Latin or common names of a species or broader taxonomic grouping (e.g., class, order, family) can be selected from an ontology. In many cases, individual species identified in these structured fields will be those for which the strongest evidence used in constructing the AOP was available in relation to this KE. More help
Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens High NCBI
human and other cells in culture human and other cells in culture High NCBI
Rattus norvegicus Rattus norvegicus High NCBI
mouse Mus musculus High NCBI

Life Stages

The structured ontology terms for life-stage are more comprehensive than those for taxa, but may still require further description/development and explanation in the free text section. More help
Life stage Evidence
All life stages

Sex Applicability

No help message More help
Term Evidence

Key Event Description

A description of the biological state being observed or measured, the biological compartment in which it is measured, and its general role in the biology should be provided. For example, the biological state being measured could be the activity of an enzyme, the expression of a gene or abundance of an mRNA transcript, the concentration of a hormone or protein, neuronal activity, heart rate, etc. The biological compartment may be a particular cell type, tissue, organ, fluid (e.g., plasma, cerebrospinal fluid), etc. The role in the biology could describe the reaction that an enzyme catalyses and the role of that reaction within a given metabolic pathway; the protein that a gene or mRNA transcript codes for and the function of that protein; the function of a hormone in a given target tissue, physiological function of an organ, etc. Careful attention should be taken to avoid reference to other KEs, KERs or AOPs. Only describe this KE as a single isolated measurable event/state. This will ensure that the KE is modular and can be used by other AOPs, thereby facilitating construction of AOP networks. More help

Two types of cell death can be distinguished by morphological features, although it is likely that these are two ends of a spectrum with possible intermediate forms. Apoptosis involves shrinkage, nuclear disassembly, and fragmentation of the cell into discrete bodies with intact plasma membranes. These are rapidly phagocytosed by neighbouring cells. An important feature of apoptosis is the requirement for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to initiate the execution phase. In contrast, necrotic cell death is characterized by cell swelling and lysis. This is usually a consequence of profound loss of mitochondrial function and resultant ATP depletion, leading to loss of ion homeostasis, including volume regulation, and increased intracellular Ca2+. The latter activates a number of nonspecific hydrolases (i.e., proteases, nucleases, and phospholipases) as well as calcium dependent kinases. Activation of calpain I, the Ca2+-dependent cysteine protease cleaves the death-promoting Bcl-2 family members Bid and Bax which translocate to mitochondrial membranes, resulting in release of truncated apoptosis-inducing factor (tAIF), cytochrome c and endonuclease in the case of Bid and cytocrome c in the case of Bax. tAIF translocates to cell nuclei, and together with cyclophilin A and phosphorylated histone H2AX (γH2AX) is responsible for DNA cleavage, a feature of programmed necrosis. Activated calpain I has also been shown to cleave the plasma membrane Na+–Ca2+ exchanger, which leads to build-up of intracellular Ca2+, which is the source of additional increased intracellular Ca2+. Cytochrome c in cellular apoptosis is a component of the apoptosome.

DNA damage activates nuclear poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1(PARP-1), a DNA repair enzyme. PARP-1 forms poly(ADP-ribose) polymers, to repair DNA, but when DNA damage is extensive, PAR accumulates, exits cell nuclei and travels to mitochondrial membranes, where it, like calpain I, is involved in AIF release from mitochondria. A fundamental distinction between necrosis and apoptosis is the loss of plasma membrane integrity; this is integral to the former but not the latter. As a consequence, lytic release of cellular constituents promotes a local inflammatory reaction, whereas the rapid removal of apoptotic bodies minimizes such a reaction. The distinction between the two modes of death is easily accomplished in vitro but not in vivo. Thus, although claims that certain drugs induce apoptosis have been made, these are relatively unconvincing. DNA fragmentation can occur in necrosis, leading to positive TUNEL staining. Conversely, when apoptosis is massive, it can exceed the capacity for rapid phagocytosis, resulting in the eventual appearance of secondary necrosis.

Two alternative pathways - either extrinsic (receptor-mediated) or intrinsic (mitochondria-mediated) - lead to apoptotic cell death. The initiation of cell death begins either at the plasma membrane with the binding of TNF or FasL to their cognate receptors or within the cell. The latter is due to the occurrence of intracellular stress in the form of biochemical events such as oxidative stress, redox changes, covalent binding, lipid peroxidation, and consequent functional effects on mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, microtubules, cytoskeleton, or DNA. The intrinsic mitochondrial pathway involves the initiator, caspase-9, which, when activated, forms an “apoptosome” in the cytosol, together with cytochrome c, which translocates from mitochondria, Apaf-1 and dATP. The apoptosome activates caspase-3, the central effector caspase, which in turn activates downstream factors that are responsible for the apoptotic death of a cell (Fujikawa, 2015). Intracellular stress either directly affects mitochondria or can lead to effects on other organelles, which then send signals to the mitochondria to recruit participation in the death process (Fujikawa, 2015; Malhi et al., 2010). Constitutively expressed nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) is a Ca2+-dependent cytosolic enzyme that forms nitric oxide (NO) from L-arginine, and NO reacts with the free radical such as superoxide (O2−) to form the very toxic free radical peroxynitrite (ONOO−). Free radicals such as ONOO−, O2 − and hydroxyl radical (OH−) damage cellular membranes and intracellular proteins, enzymes and DNA (Fujikawa, 2015; Malhi et al., 2010; Kaplowitz, 2002; Kroemer et al., 2009).  

How It Is Measured or Detected

One of the primary considerations in evaluating AOPs is the relevance and reliability of the methods with which the KEs can be measured. The aim of this section of the KE description is not to provide detailed protocols, but rather to capture, in a sentence or two, per method, the type(s) of measurements that can be employed to evaluate the KE and the relative level of scientific confidence in those measurements. Methods that can be used to detect or measure the biological state represented in the KE should be briefly described and/or cited. These can range from citation of specific validated test guidelines, citation of specific methods published in the peer reviewed literature, or outlines of a general protocol or approach (e.g., a protein may be measured by ELISA).Key considerations regarding scientific confidence in the measurement approach include whether the assay is fit for purpose, whether it provides a direct or indirect measure of the biological state in question, whether it is repeatable and reproducible, and the extent to which it is accepted in the scientific and/or regulatory community. Information can be obtained from the OECD Test Guidelines website and the EURL ECVAM Database Service on Alternative Methods to Animal Experimentation (DB-ALM). ?


LDH is a soluble cytoplasmic enzyme that is present in almost all cells and is released into extracellular space when the plasma membrane is damaged. To detect the leakage of LDH into cell culture medium, a tetrazolium salt is used in this assay. In the first step, LDH produces reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) when it catalyzes the oxidation of lactate to pyruvate. In the second step, a tetrazolium salt is converted to a colored formazan product using newly synthesized NADH in the presence of an electron acceptor. The amount of formazan product can be colorimetrically quantified by standard spectroscopy. Because of the linearity of the assay, it can be used to enumerate the percentage of necrotic cells in a sample (Chan et al., 2013). 

The MTT assay is a colorimetric assay for assessing cell viability. NAD(P)H-dependent cellular oxidoreductase enzymes may reflect the number of viable cells present. These enzymes are capable of reducing the tetrazolium dye MTT 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide to its insoluble formazan, which has a purple color. Other closely related tetrazolium dyes including XTT, MTS and the WSTs. Tetrazolium dye assays can also be used to measure cytotoxicity (loss of viable cells) or cytostatic activity (shift from proliferation to quiescence) of potential medicinal agents and toxic materials. MTT assays are usually done in the dark since the MTT reagent is sensitive to light (Berridgeet al.,2005).

Propidium iodide (PI) is an intercalating agent and a fluorescent molecule used to stain necrotic cells. It is cell membrane impermeant so it stains only those cells where the cell membrane is destroyed. When PI is bound to nucleic acids, the fluorescence excitation maximum is 535 nm and the emission maximum is 617 nm (Moore et al.,1998)

Alamar Blue (resazurin) fluorescent dye. The oxidized blue non fluorescent Alamar blue is reduced to a pink fluorescent dye in the medium by cell activity (O'Brien et al., 2000) (12).

Neutral red uptake, which is based on the ability of viable cells to incorporate and bind the supravital dye neutral red in lysosomes (Repetto et al., 2008)(13).

ATP assay: Quantification of ATP, signaling the presence of metabolically active cells (CellTiter-Glo; Promega).


TUNEL is a common method for detecting DNA fragmentation that results from apoptotic signalling cascades. The assay relies on the presence of nicks in the DNA which can be identified by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase or TdT, an enzyme that will catalyze the addition of dUTPs that are secondarily labeled with a marker. It may also label cells that have suffered severe DNA damage.

Caspase activity assays measured by fluorescence. During apoptosis, mainly caspase-3 and -7 cleave PARP to yield an 85 kDa and a 25 kDa fragment. PARP cleavage is considered to be one of the classical characteristics of apoptosis. Antibodies to the 85 kDa fragment of cleaved PARP or to caspase-3 both serve as markers for apoptotic cells that can be monitored using immunofluorescence (Li, Peng et al., 2004).

Hoechst 33342 staining: Hoechst dyes are cell-permeable and bind to DNA in live or fixed cells. Therefore, these stains are often called supravital, which means that cells survive a treatment with these compounds. The stained, condensed or fragmented DNA is a marker of apoptosis (Loo, 2002; Kubbies and Rabinovitch, 1983). 

Acridine Orange/Ethidium Bromide staining is used to visualize nuclear changes and apoptotic body formation that are characteristic of apoptosis. Cells are viewed under a fluorescence microscope and counted to quantify apoptosis.

Domain of Applicability

This free text section should be used to elaborate on the scientific basis for the indicated domains of applicability and the WoE calls (if provided). While structured terms may be selected to define the taxonomic, life stage and sex applicability (see structured applicability terms, above) of the KE, the structured terms may not adequately reflect or capture the overall biological applicability domain (particularly with regard to taxa). Likewise, the structured terms do not provide an explanation or rationale for the selection. The free-text section on evidence for taxonomic, life stage, and sex applicability can be used to elaborate on why the specific structured terms were selected, and provide supporting references and background information.  More help

Cell death is an universal event occurring in cells of any species (Fink and Cookson,2005).


List of the literature that was cited for this KE description. Ideally, the list of references, should conform, to the extent possible, with the OECD Style Guide ( (OECD, 2015). More help
  • Fujikawa, D.G. (2015), The role of excitotoxic programmed necrosis in acute brain injury, Comput Struct Biotechnol J, vol. 13, pp. 212-221.
  • Malhi, H. et al. (2010), Hepatocyte death: a clear and present danger, Physiol Rev, vol. 90, no. 3, pp. 1165-1194.
  • Kaplowitz, N. (2002), Biochemical and Cellular Mechanisms of Toxic Liver Injury, Semin Liver Dis, vol. 22, no. 2, (accessed on 20 January 2016).
  • Kroemer, G. et al., (2009), Classification of cell death: recommendations of the Nomenclature Committee on Cell Death, Cell Death Differ, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 3-11.
  • Chan, F.K., K. Moriwaki and M.J. De Rosa (2013), Detection of necrosis by release of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity, Methods Mol Biol, vol. 979, pp. 65–70.
  • Berridge, M.V., P.M. Herst and A.S. Tan (2005), Tetrazolium dyes as tools in cell biology: new insights into their cellular reduction. Biotechnology Annual Review, vol. 11, pp 127-152.
  • Moore, A, et al.(1998), Simultaneous measurement of cell cycle and apoptotic cell death,Methods Cell Biol, vol. 57, pp. 265–278.
  • Li, Peng et al. (2004), Mitochondrial activation of apoptosis, Cell, vol. 116, no. 2 Suppl,pp. S57-59, 2 p following S59.
  • Loo, D.T. (2002), TUNEL Assay an overview of techniques, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol. 203: In Situ Detection of DNA Damage, chapter 2, Didenko VV (ed.), Humana Press Inc.
  • Kubbies, M. and P.S. Rabinovitch (1983), Flow cytometric analysis of factors which influence the BrdUrd-Hoechst quenching effect in cultivated human fibroblasts and lymphocytes, Cytometry, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 276–281.
  • Fink, S.L. and B.T. Cookson (2005), Apoptosis, pyroptosis, and necrosis: mechanistic description of dead and dying eukaryotic cells, Infect Immun, vol. 73, no. 4, pp.1907-1916.
  • O'Brien J, Wilson I, Orton T, Pognan F. 2000. Investigation of the Alamar Blue (resazurin) fluorescent dye for the assessment of mammalian cell cytotoxicity. European journal of biochemistry / FEBS 267(17): 5421-5426.
  • Repetto G, del Peso A, Zurita JL. 2008. Neutral red uptake assay for the estimation of cell viability/cytotoxicity. Nature protocols 3(7): 1125-1131.