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Dev Biol. 2007 Mar 1;303(1):336-46. Epub 2006 Nov 15.

Apoptosis in early development of the sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus.

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Stanford University, Hopkins Marine Station, 120 Oceanview Blvd., Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA.


Apoptosis provides metazoans remarkable developmental flexibility by (1) eliminating damaged undifferentiated cells early in development and then (2) sculpting, patterning, and restructuring tissues during successive stages thereafter. We show here that apoptotic programmed cell death is infrequent and not obligatory during early embryogenesis of the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. During the first 30 h of urchin development, fewer than 20% of embryos exhibit any cell death. Cell death during the cleavage stages consists of necrotic or pathological cell death, while cell death during the blastula and gastrula stages is random and predominantly caspase-mediated apoptosis. Apoptosis remains infrequent during the late blastula stage followed by a gradual increase in frequency during gastrulation. Even after prolonged exposure during the cleavage period to chemical stress, apoptosis occurs in less than 50% of embryos and always around the pre-hatching stage. Embryonic suppression of apoptosis through caspase inhibition leads to functionally normal larvae that can survive to metamorphosis, but in the presence of inducers of apoptosis, caspase inhibition leads to deformed larvae and reduced survival. Remarkably, however, pharmacological induction of apoptosis, while reducing overall survival, also significantly accelerates development of the survivors such that metamorphosis occurs up to a week before controls.

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