This mechanism of programmed cell death plays an important role in normal development and control of cell numbers in mature animals. Initiation of the apoptotic process can come from external or internal stimuli and is highly regulated both by molecules that facilitate and by molecules that inhibit the process. It can be envisioned that apoptosis as a response to an intracellular pathogen is a useful way for the host to eliminate infected cells, decreasing the likelihood of spread of the infection to neighboring cells and preventing pathogen persistence. Alternatively, the apoptotic response may be a major mechanism by which the host is harmed by a pathogen.

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