Ethylnitrosourea (ENU)-induced apoptosis in the rat fetal tissues

Histol Histopathol. 2000 Jul;15(3):707-11. doi: 10.14670/HH-15.707.


Ethylnitrosourea (ENU), a well known DNA alkylating agent, induces anomalies in the central nervous system (CNS), craniofacial tissues and male reproductive organs. In this study, pregnant rats were treated with 60 mg/kg ENU at day 13 of gestation, and their fetuses were examined from 1 to 48 hours after treatment (HAT) to find a clue for clarifying the mechanisms of the ENU fetotoxicity and teratogenicity. From 3 to 12 HAT, the moderate to marked increase in the number of pyknotic cells was detected in the fetal CNS, craniofacial mesenchymal tissues, gonads and so on. These pyknotic cells had nuclei positively stained by the TUNEL method, which is widely used for the detection of apoptotic nuclei, and they also showed electron microscopic characteristics identical to those of apoptotic cells. The present results strongly suggest that excess cell death by apoptosis in the fetal CNS, craniofacial tissues and gonads may have a close relation to the later occurrence of anomalies reported in these tissues following ENU-administration.

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents / administration & dosage
  • Alkylating Agents / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Carcinogens / administration & dosage
  • Carcinogens / pharmacology*
  • Digestive System / drug effects
  • Digestive System / embryology
  • Digestive System / pathology
  • Ethylnitrosourea / administration & dosage
  • Ethylnitrosourea / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Fetus / drug effects
  • Fetus / pathology
  • Gonads / drug effects
  • Gonads / embryology
  • Gonads / pathology
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / embryology
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Teratogens / pharmacology*


  • Alkylating Agents
  • Carcinogens
  • Teratogens
  • Ethylnitrosourea