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Mitotic arrest of female germ cells during prenatal oogenesis. A colcemid-like, non-apoptotic cell death

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The sequence of events and a possible reason for germ cell death during oogenesis in the prenatal ovary were studied in rat and mouse embryos. ED 14–22 rat and ED 14–16 mouse embryos were studied using semithin sections for light microscopy and serial ultrathin sections for electron microscopy. In addition, the rat material was 3H-thymidine labelled for historadioautography and cytospin preparations of freshly obtained gonads were immunohistochemically analysed. During the transition from the proliferating oogonial stage to the meiotic prophase about 16% of the postmitotic oocytes do not pass the initial meiotic checkpoint on ED 18/19 in the rat (ED 15/16 in the mouse). These germ cells first show structural signs of mitosis; the diploid number of ’super-condensed’ chromosomes are globally formed and are concentrated in the center of the cell. Although the germ cells show all morphological signs of living cells they never have mitotic spindles; the micro-tubulus-organisation-centres (MTOCs) are found peripherally and become concentrated, forming a single centrosomal body (acentriolar MTOC) as detected by immunohistochemistry for the centrosomal protein MPM2 and γ-tubulin. EM studies show 25 nm tubule-like profiles within the MTOC bodies. The centrioles frequently lie separate from the MTOC material or are not present at all; the germ cells are apparently arrested in a prophase- or metaphase-like stage when they have reached the postmitotic G2/preleptotenal transition and are unable to enter meiosis. Forty-eight to 72 h after the first mitotically arrested germ cells are found, degeneration is seen in these germ cells. This second event, the germ cell death proper, shows neither criteria of apoptosis (cell shrinkage, marginal condensation of chromatin, DNA fragmentation) nor signs of necrosis (cell swelling, pycnosis, inflammation). Both arrested pro- and metaphase-like stages are found with signs of cell death and phagocytosis. The morphological signs of phagocytosis are found in neighbouring pregranulosa cells. The final heterocytotic bodies contain the remnants of the centrosomal (MTOC) material and DAPI-positive DNA material. The pregranulosa cells are mitotically silent during the phase when mitotic arrest and germ cell degeneration is found. The results suggest the presence of a hypothetical ’anti-spindle’ factor, which under normal conditions is necessary for induction of meiotic prophase. The structural events of ’arrested mitosis’ is reminiscent of those induced by the antimitotic, tubule-degrading drug colcemid. This type of arrest may inhibit meiosis of more than 33% prenatal germ cells and induce their cell death.

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Accepted: 30 July 2001

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Wartenberg, H., Ihmer, A., Schwarz, S. et al. Mitotic arrest of female germ cells during prenatal oogenesis. A colcemid-like, non-apoptotic cell death. Anat Embryol 204, 421–435 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-001-0216-7

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  • Keywords Meiotic prophase
  • Centrosome
  • MTOC
  • Phagocytosis
  • Rat
  • Mouse