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Degeneration (from Latin de- 'ent-' ; genus 'type' , 'gender'), also degeneracy , is a generic term used in medical science for formal, structural, etc. functional deviations from the norm . The term is usually used in the sense of a functional restriction due to wear and tear (e.g. degenerative changes in the tendon or degenerative joint diseases).

In modern medical parlance, degeneration is understood to mean the regression and deterioration of predominantly whole tissues or organs :

  • degradation or loss of function due to the constitution or due to chronic damaging factors ("degenerative diseases") or insufficient use (see also atrophy and dystrophy ),
  • a regression of body parts that are no longer used in the course of evolution or aging or individual maturation (more precisely referred to as involution ).

Definition of terms

If individual cells are affected, necrosis (pathological) or various types of programmed cell death (physiological) are more likely to be spoken of.

If there is a relapse into “more primitive” behavior patterns, the term regression is used, a term tinged with psychoanalysis . The opposite of biological-pathological degeneration is differentiation or tissue maturation. A mutation can cause degeneration, but simply means “change” without any judgment.

In genetics, the degeneration of the genetic code describes the variety of base triplets that encode an amino acid.


  • Leo Hermele, Manfred Spitzer : From degeneration to anticipation - thoughts on the non-Mendelian inheritance of neuropsychiatric diseases from a historical and current perspective. In: Gerhardt Nissen , Frank Badura (ed.): Series of publications of the German Society for the History of Neurology. Volume 2. Würzburg 1996, pp. 111-127.

Individual evidence

  1. Degeneratio. In: Roche Medical Lexicon. Retrieved February 14, 2017 .