AAT Bioquest

What are the differences between reversible and irreversible cell injury?

Posted January 26, 2023


Basis of differentiation

Reversible cell injury

Irreversible cell injury


Reversible cell injury is defined as cellular injury that can regain homeostasis and return to a morphologically and functional normal state

Is an injury to a cell that causes morphological changes that are permanent, and typically to the inner mechanisms of the cell

Duration of injury

Reversible cell injury an typically be stopped by removing or destroying the stimulus causing damage

Irreversible cell injury progresses and cannot return to normal state

Type of injury involved

Is typically the result of the beginning stages of lack of oxygen (hypoxia) and lack of blood flow to cells

It involves more agents such as viruses, genetic disadvantages, or immunological stimuli

Cellular Response

Reversible cell injury results in cellular swelling, cellular blebbing, fat accumulation 

Results in acidosis of the cellular environment, destruction of vital organelles and damage to membranes

Tissue response

Reversible cell injury causes noticeable swelling and increase in surface area at tissues

Irreversible cell injury causes necrosis and cell death 


Reversible cell injury is pharmacologically treatable and recovery is possible

Irreversible cell injury causes permanent cell loss and death 

Mitochondrial changes 

Causes swelling and accumulation of phospholipid rich densities

Causes swelling and leakage of cytochrome C into the cell cytoplasm 

Nucleus/chromatin response  

Causes the formation of fibular elements in the nucleus

Causes the dissolution of chromatin

Additional resources

Cell Damage

PhosphoWorks™ Colorimetric ATP Assay Kit

Cell Meter™ Intracellular NADH/NADPH Flow Cytometric Analysis Kit *Red Fluorescence*