Of eight million oocytes formed in fetal ovaries, only 400 are ovulated and the rest are degraded via apoptosis. Studies in rodents suggest an important role for Bok and Bcl-X(L) in ovarian apoptosis, but their expression patterns and roles in human ovaries are not well known. Protein expression of Bok and Bcl-X(L) as well as the death pathway effectors TNF and caspase-3 were determined in an important collection of samples consisting of human fetal and adult ovaries. A penetrant expression of Bok, Bcl-X(L), TNF and full length and cleaved caspase-3 were characterized in fetal ovaries, with specific patterns in oocytes and pre-granulosa/granulosa cells. Bok and Bcl-X(L) were detected also in adult ovaries. Lentiviral shRNA delivery demonstrated that loss of Bok markedly reduces vulnerability to apoptosis and, conversely, loss of Bcl-X(L) increases apoptosis in human granulosa tumour cell line. The results suggest important roles for Bok and Bcl-X(L) in human ovarian development, follicle maturation and apoptosis.
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