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Mech Dev. 1997 Dec;69(1-2):183-95.

A developmental timer that regulates apoptosis at the onset of gastrulation.

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Department of Genetics and Development, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Recent work identified an apoptotic program in gastrulation stage Xenopus embryos (Anderson, J.A., Lewellyn, A.L., Maller, J.L., 1997. Mol. Biol. Cell 8, 1195-1206; Stack, J.H., Newport, J.W., 1997. Development 124, 3185-3195). Here, we characterize in detail this maternal cell death program, which is set up at fertilization and abruptly activated at the onset of gastrulation, following DNA damage or treatment of embryos with inhibitors of transcription, translation, or replication, between the time of fertilization and the midblastula transition (MBT). This apoptotic pathway is activated under tightly regulated developmental control(s): if the same treatments are applied after the MBT the apoptotic response is abrogated. Embryos displayed many characteristic apoptotic features, including DNA fragmentation, caspase activation, and embryonic death was blocked in vivo by the ectopic expression of Bcl-2, or injection of the caspase-3 inhibitor z-DEVD-fmk. The precise timing and the execution of this maternal cell death program is set at fertilization and does not depend on the type of stress applied, on cell cycle progression, or on de novo protein synthesis. This maternal developmental program might palliate the lack of cell cycle checkpoints in the pre-MBT embryo.

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