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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 May 19;106(20):8233-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900333106. Epub 2009 May 6.

Apoptosis is not required for mammalian neural tube closure.

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  • 1Neural Development Unit, University College London Institute of Child Health, London, United Kingdom.


Apoptotic cell death occurs in many tissues during embryonic development and appears to be essential for processes including digit formation and cardiac outflow tract remodeling. Studies in the chick suggest a requirement for apoptosis during neurulation, because inhibition of caspase activity was found to prevent neural tube closure. In mice, excessive apoptosis occurs in association with failure of neural tube closure in several genetic mutants, but whether regulated apoptosis is also necessary for neural tube closure in mammals is unknown. Here we investigate the possible role of apoptotic cell death during mouse neural tube closure. We confirm the presence of apoptosis in the neural tube before and during closure, and identify a correlation with 3 main events: bending and fusion of the neural folds, postfusion remodeling of the dorsal neural tube and surface ectoderm, and emigration of neural crest cells. Both Casp3 and Apaf1 null embryos exhibit severely reduced apoptosis, yet neurulation proceeds normally in the forebrain and spine. In contrast, the mutant embryos fail to complete neural tube closure in the midbrain and hindbrain. Application of the apoptosis inhibitors z-Vad-fmk and pifithrin-alpha to neurulation-stage embryos in culture suppresses apoptosis but does not prevent initiation or progression of neural tube closure along the entire neuraxis, including the midbrain and hindbrain. Remodeling of the surface ectoderm to cover the closed tube, as well as delamination and migration of neural crest cells, also appear to be normal in the apoptosis-suppressed embryos. We conclude that apoptosis is not required for neural tube closure in the mouse embryo.

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