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Cell Death Differ. 1999 Sep;6(9):908-15.

Bcl-2 and Bax regulation of apoptosis in germ cells during prenatal oogenesis in the mouse embryo.

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  • 1Department of Public Health and Cell Biology, Section of Histology and Embryology, University of Rome, "Tor Vergata", Rome, Italy. defelici@uniroma2.it


Apoptosis is the main cause of primordial germ cell and oocyte degeneration in the developing fetal ovary. In this study we examined by immunohistochemistry and immunoblotting the expression of the anti- and pro-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bax in primordial germ cells and fetal oocytes during pre natal oogenesis in the mouse embryo. While Bcl-2 and Bax were not detectable in primordial germ cells in vivo, both proteins were upregulated when they undergo apoptosis in culture. Treatment with the stem cell factor (SCF), a growth factor known to partially reduce primordial germ cell apoptosis, resulted in decreased Bax expression. Bcl-2 was barely detectable in oocytes entering into meiosis and its expression did not change during the stage of meiotic prophase I examined. On the contrary, high levels of Bax was expressed in degenerating oocytes while low levels of the protein was present in many apparently healthy oocytes between 15.5 days post coitum (d.p.c.) and birth, when Bax was downregulated. Oocytes isolated from 15.5 days post coitum (d.p.c.) ovaries that progress through prophase I and undergo a wave of apoptosis at the stage of pachytene/diplotene in vitro, showed a pattern of Bax expression similar to the in vivo condition. Although the addition of SCF to the culture medium reduced significantly apoptosis in oocytes at the pachytene/diplotene stages, it was not possible to directly correlate this effect with the downregulation of Bax in the surviving oocytes. These findings indicate that whereas a balance between Bcl-2 and Bax might regulate apoptosis of proliferating primordial germ cells under a partial control by SCF, Bax-mediated apoptosis in meiotic oocytes may be due to intrinsic meiotic checkpoints which act to monitor aberrant DNA recombination rather than to a growth factor-dependent process. Elimination of supernumerary oocytes might be a subsequent apoptotic phenomenon controlled by the availability of growth factors such as SCF within the ovary.

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