At the midblastula transition during Xenopus development, the cell cycle is remodeled, and zygotic transcription is initiated. Additionally, cyclin E1 is degraded at the midblastula transition independently of protein synthesis, the number of cell cycles, and the nuclear-to-cytoplasmic ratio. In the studies reported here, cell cycles were delayed by transient inhibition of protein synthesis with cycloheximide (100 microg/ml) prior to the midblastula transition. Even after reaccumulation of mitotic cyclins and resumption of cell divisions, cycloheximide-treated embryos did not resume DNA synthesis, failed to initiate transcription, and synchronously became apoptotic before the gastrula stage. These results were independent of the stage at which embryos were treated or the duration of treatment. Inhibition of zygotic transcription with alpha-amanitin also induced apoptosis. These data suggest that a developmental checkpoint at the midblastula transition is maternally regulated and can trigger apoptosis. Apoptosis induced by cycloheximide or alpha-amanitin was blocked by injection of RNA encoding Xenopus Bcl-2, suggesting that this maternal program is normally blocked by expression of an apoptotic inhibitor. Embryos pulsed with lower doses of cycloheximide (10 microg/ml) delayed development prior to the midblastula transition but resumed DNA synthesis, initiated transcription, and gastrulated normally. This indicates that the apoptotic response is initiated only when delayed embryos are unable to support initiation of zygotic transcription.
Copyright 1997 Academic Press.