In this study, we demonstrate the developmental activation, in the zebrafish embryo, of a surveillance mechanism which triggers apoptosis to remove damaged cells. We determine the time course of activation of this mechanism by exposing embryos to camptothecin, an agent which specifically inhibits topoisomerase I within the DNA replication complex and which, as a consequence of this inhibition, also produces strand breaks in the genomic DNA. In response to an early (pre-gastrula) treatment with camptothecin, apoptosis is induced at a time corresponding approximately to mid-gastrula stage in controls. This apoptotic response to a block of DNA replication can also be induced by early (pre-MBT) treatment with the DNA synthesis inhibitors hydroxyurea and aphidicolin. After camptothecin treatment, a high proportion of cells in two of the embryo's three mitotic domains (the enveloping and deep cell layers), but not in the remaining domain (the yolk syncytial layer), undergoes apoptosis in a cell-autonomous fashion. The first step in this response is an arrest of the proliferation of all deep- and enveloping-layer cells. These cells continue to increase in nuclear volume and to synthesize DNA. Eventually they become apoptotic, by a stereotypic pathway which involves cell membrane blebbing, "margination" and fragmentation of nuclei, and cleavage of the genomic DNA to produce a nucleosomal ladder. Fragmentation of nuclei can be blocked by the caspase-1,4,5 inhibitor Ac-YVAD-CHO, but not by the caspase-2,3,7[, 1] inhibitor Ac-DEVD-CHO. This suggests a functional requirement for caspase-4 or caspase-5 in the apoptotic response to camptothecin. Recently, Xenopus has been shown to display a developmental activation of the capability for stress- or damaged-induced apoptosis at early gastrula stage. En masse, our experiments suggest that the apoptotic responses in zebrafish and Xenopus are fundamentally similar. Thus, as for mammals, embryos of the lower vertebrates exhibit the activation of surveillance mechanisms, early in development, to produce the selective apoptosis of damaged cells.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.