Programmed cell death is an ordered process that is essential for the normal development and homeostasis of an organism. Dysregulation of this programmed pathway, resulting in either excess cell numbers or unscheduled cell death, underlies a number of disease states. Bcl-2 family proteins play a key role in regulating cell death and survival, and a number of studies have demonstrated their role as important regulators of cell fate in the lymphoid system. Mice that are genetically deficient or overexpress various Bcl-2 family proteins have provided important clues regarding their roles in lymphocyte development, progression of lymphoid tumors and analogous human disorders. In addition, lymphotropic viruses may trigger cell proliferation and inhibit cell death with the help of their own Bcl-2 homologues. Comparing the shared and distinct functions of viral and cellular Bcl-2-related proteins yields new insight into their fundamental mechanisms.
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