, Volume 16, Issue 10, pp 512-519

The Role of Apoptosis in Normal and Abnormal Embryonic Development

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Abstract

Programmed cell death or apoptosis is a widespread biological phenomenon. Apoptosis is characterized by typical cell features such as membrane blebbing, chromatin condensation, and DNA fragmentation. It involves a number of membrane receptors (e.g., Fas, TNFR) and a cascade of signal transduction steps resulting in the activation of a number of cysteine proteases known as caspases. Disordered apoptosis may lead to carcinogenesis and participates in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, or AIDS. Programmed cell death plays an important role in the processes of gamete maturation as well as in embryo development, contributing to the appropriate formation of various organs and structures. Apoptosis is one of the mechanisms of action of various cytotoxic agents and teratogens. Teratogen-induced excessive death of embryonic cells is undoubtedly one of the most important events preceding the occurrence of structural abnormalities, regardless of their nature. Therefore understanding the mechanisms involved in physiological as well as in disturbed or dysregulated apoptosis may lead to the development of new methods of preventive treatment of various developmental abnormalities. The present review summarizes data on the mechanisms of programmed cell death and concentrates on apoptosis involved in normal or disturbed gametogenesis and in normal and abnormal embryonic development.