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Dev Biol. 2000 Apr 15;220(2):343-57.

Medial edge epithelial cell fate during palatal fusion.

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Departamento de Ciencias Morfológicas I, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.


To explain the disappearance of medial edge epithelial (MEE) cells during palatal fusion, programmed cell death, epithelial-mesenchymal transformation, and migration of these cells to the oral and nasal epithelia have been proposed. However, MEE cell death has not always been accepted as a mechanism involved in midline epithelial seam disappearance. Similarly, labeling of MEE cells with vital lipophilic markers has not led to a clear conclusion as to whether MEE cells migrate, transform into mesenchyme, or both. To clarify these controversies, we first utilized TUNEL techniques to detect apoptosis in mouse palates at the fusion stage and concomitantly analyzed the presence of macrophages by immunochemistry and confocal microscopy. Second, we in vitro infected the MEE with the replication-defective helper-free retroviral vector CXL, which carries the Escherichia coli lacZ gene, and analyzed beta-galactosidase activity in cells after fusion to follow their fate. Our results demonstrate that MEE cells die and transform into mesenchyme during palatal fusion and that dead cells are phagocytosed by macrophages. In addition, we have investigated the effects of the absence of transforming growth factor beta(3) (TGF-beta(3)) during palatal fusion. Using environmental scanning electron microscopy and TUNEL labeling we compared the MEE of the clefted TGF-beta(3) null and wild-type mice. We show that MEE cell death in TGF-beta(3) null palates is greatly reduced at the time of fusion, revealing that TGF-beta(3) has an important role as an inducer of apoptosis during palatal fusion. Likewise, the bulging cells observed on the MEE surface of wild-type mice prior to palatal shelf contact are very rare in the TGF-beta(3) null mutants. We hypothesize that these protruding cells are critical for palatal adhesion, being morphological evidence of increased cell motility/migration.

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