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Neuroscience. 2002;112(3):509-23.

Synapse-independent and synapse-dependent apoptosis of cerebellar granule cells in postnatal rabbits occur at two subsequent but partly overlapping developmental stages.

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Department of Veterinary Morphophysiology, Via Leonardo da Vinci 44, I-10095 Grugliasco, Italy.


It has long been known that cells in the external granular layer die during postnatal development of the cerebellum. More recent findings indicate that at certain developmental stages, cell death occurs upon activation of an apoptotic program. We show that cerebellar granule cells in rabbits undergo programmed cell death at two different stages of maturation. At postnatal day 5 (P5), granule cell precursors and pre-migratory granule cells in the external granular layer incorporate the S-phase markers 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine and 5-iodo-2'-deoxyuridine with a pattern that is dependent upon the interval between the administration of the two tracers. Within 12-24 h after proliferation a significant number of labeled cells show typical ultrastructural alterations of apoptosis. DNA electrophoresis and cleavage of poly-ADP-ribose polymerase confirm the activation of the apoptotic machinery. After Southern blotting and immunodetection, incorporated 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine is present at the level of low size DNA oligomers as soon as 12 h after cell division. Therefore, this apoptotic phase is intrinsic to external granular layer neurons and independent of synaptic interactions with targets.Apoptotic cells, although fewer in number, are detected also in the internal granular layer and tend to increase from P5 to P10. It seems unlikely that these cells undergo DNA fragmentation in the external granular layer and subsequently migrate to their final destination, considering the data on cell cycle kinetics and the rapid tissue clearance by the glia. Parallel fiber-Purkinje spine synapses are already present in the molecular layer at P5. Therefore, the post-migratory granule cells likely undergo apoptosis as a failure to make proper synaptic contacts in the forming molecular layer. We conclude that the massive apoptosis of pre-migratory cells likely has a role in regulating the size of this rapidly expanding population of pre-mitotic neurons. The less tumultuous cell death of post-mitotic granule cells in the internal granular layer appears to be linked to the formation of the mature synaptic circuitry of the developing cerebellar cortex.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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