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Reproduction. 2004 Sep;128(3):281-91.

Deadly decisions: the role of genes regulating programmed cell death in human preimplantation embryo development.

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Division of Reproductive Sciences, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Department of Physiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Human preimplantation embryo development is prone to high rates of early embryo wastage, particularly under current in vitro culture conditions. There are many possible underlying causes for embryo demise, including DNA damage, poor embryo metabolism and the effect of suboptimal culture media, all of which could result in an imbalance in gene expression and the failed execution of basic embryonic decisions. In view of the complex interactions involved in embryo development, a thorough understanding of these parameters is essential to improving embryo quality. An increasing body of evidence indicates that cell fate (i.e. survival/differentiation or death) is determined by the outcome of specific intracellular interactions between pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins, many of which are expressed during oocyte and preimplantation embryo development. The recent availability of mutant mice lacking expression of various genes involved in the regulation of cell survival has enabled rapid progress towards identifying those molecules that are functionally important for normal oocyte and preimplantation embryo development. In this review we will discuss the current understanding of the regulation of cell death gene expression during preimplantation embryo development, with a focus on human embryology and a discussion of animal models where appropriate.

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