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Life Sci. 2003 Nov 7;73(25):3297-306.

Programmed cell death in Xenopus laevis spinal cord, tail and other tissues, prior to, and during, metamorphosis.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Biologie Générale, Université Catholique de Lyon, 25 rue du Plat, 69288 LyonCedex 02, France.


Programmed cell death is necessary for the shaping and remodelling of nervous and non-nervous tissues during development. Amphibia, whose body undergoes profound modifications during metamorphosis, are particularly useful models for studying the relationship between cell death in muscles and other non-nervous tissues on the one hand, and in the nervous system connected with these tissues on the other hand. We checked the occurrence of apoptotic cells (identified by TUNEL labelling) in different organs and regions from hatching (stages 35-36) to climax (stages 63-64) in the African Clawed Frog Xenopus laevis. Some organs (e.g., skin and digestive tract) contained apoptotic cells during the entire period studied. In transitory organs (cement gland and gills), a single wave of cell death occurred during the regression of these tissues. In order to compare the timing of cell death in the spinal cord with that of tail regression, we counted the number of TUNEL-positive cells in spinal cord sections taken from animals between stages 54 and 64. Three-dimensional reconstructions using confocal microscopy of vibratome slices immunostained for the detection of c-Jun-like protein accumulated in the cytoplasm of apoptotic cells showed numerous cells at various degrees of degeneration. Many of these cells still presented the morphological characteristics of neurones. The peak of apoptosis was found at stage 58, preceding tail regression. This suggests that neural cell death is not a consequence but rather an element upstream in the chain of events leading to tail degeneration.

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