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Review
. 2005 Dec;75(4):353-61.
doi: 10.1002/bdrc.20052.

Teratogen-induced Apoptotic Cell Death: Does the Apoptotic Machinery Act as a Protector of Embryos Exposed to Teratogens?

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Review

Teratogen-induced Apoptotic Cell Death: Does the Apoptotic Machinery Act as a Protector of Embryos Exposed to Teratogens?

Arkady Torchinsky et al. Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. .

Abstract

Considerable evidence has been collected demonstrating that many teratogens induce apoptotic cell death in embryonic structures that turn out to be malformed in fetuses and newborns. Apoptosis is a genetically regulated process that is realized by the activation of death and pro-survival signaling cascades, and the interplay between these cascades determines whether the cell exposed to apoptotic stimuli dies or survives. Therefore, there is intense interest in understanding how the apoptotic machinery functions in embryos exposed to teratogens. However, the interpretation of the results obtained remains problematic. The main problem is that excessive embryonic cell death, regardless of its nature, if uncompensated for, ultimately leads to maldevelopment or embryonic death. Therefore, we can easily interpret results when the intensity of teratogen-induced cell death and the severity or incidence of teratogen-induced anomalies directly correlate with each other. However, when teratogen-induced cell death is not followed by the formation of anomalies, a usual explanation is that teratogen-induced apoptotic cell death contributes to the renewal of teratogen-targeted cell populations by promoting the removal of injured cells. It is clear that such an explanation leaves vague the role of the anti-apoptotic signaling mechanism (and, hence, the apoptotic machinery as a whole) with respect to protecting the embryo against teratogenic stress. In this review, we summarize the data from studies addressing the function of the apoptotic machinery in embryos exposed to teratogens, and then we discuss approaches to interpreting the results of these studies. We hypothesize that activation of a proapoptotic signaling in teratogen-targeted cell populations is a necessary condition for an anti-apoptotic signaling that counteracts the process of maldevelopment to be activated. If such a scenario is true, we need to modify our approaches to choosing molecular targets for studies addressing this topic.

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