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Dev Biol. 1998 Nov 1;203(1):36-48.

Programmed cell death during Xenopus development: a spatio-temporal analysis.

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Department of Genetics and Development and Department of Dermatology, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street, New York, New York, 10032, USA.


Programmed cell death (PCD) is an integral part of many developmental processes. In vertebrates little is yet known on the patterns of PCD and its role during the early phases of development, when embryonic tissue layers migrate and pattern formation takes place. We describe the spatio-temporal patterns of cell death during early Xenopus development, from fertilization to the tadpole stage (stage 35/36). Cell death was analyzed by a whole-mount in situ DNA end-labeling technique (the TUNEL protocol), as well as by serial sections of paraffin-embedded TUNEL-stained embryos. The first cell death was detected during gastrulation, and as development progressed followed highly dynamic and reproducible patterns, strongly suggesting it is an important component of development at these stages. The detection of PCD during neural induction, neural plate patterning, and later during the development of the nervous system highlights the role of PCD throughout neurogenesis. Additionally, high levels of cell death were detected in the developing tail and sensory organs. This is the first detailed description of PCD throughout early development of a vertebrate, and provides the basis for further studies on its role in the patterning and morphogenesis of the embryo.

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