Cutaneous burn injury is associated with epidermal loss in the zone of coagulation zone and delayed tissue loss in the zone of stasis. Thus, thermal stress can trigger both necrosis and regulated cell death (RCD) or apoptosis. Experimental in vitro and in vivo work has clearly demonstrated apoptotic events of thermally injured keratinocytes that are accompanied by morphological and biochemical markers of regulated cell death. However, in vivo data for the different pathways of regulated cell death are sparse. In vitro experiments with heat-stressed human keratinocytes have demonstrated death receptor involvement (extrinsic apoptosis), calcium influx, and disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential (intrinsic apoptosis) in regulated cell death. In addition, caspase-independent pathways have been suggested in regulated cell death. Keratinocyte heat stress leads to reduced proliferation, possibly as a result of reduced keratinocyte adhesion (anoikis) or oncogene involvement. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of RCD and the skin’s responses to thermal stress may lead to improved strategies for treating cutaneous burn trauma.
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