Apoptosis is a fundamental mechanism in follicular atresia and postovulatory regression in mammals, but its role in teleost ovarian function is currently unknown. This study tested the hypotheses that apoptosis mediates follicular atresia in teleosts and is inducible in vitro by incubation in serum-free conditions. Vitellogenic follicles from rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and goldfish (Carassius auratus) were incubated overnight in serum-free medium and examined for apoptosis by 3′-end-labeling and/or TUNEL analysis. Primary, postovulatory, and oocytectomized vitellogenic trout follicles and atretic goldfish follicles were evaluated in similar fashion. Overall, goldfish follicles had lower levels of DNA fragmentation than trout follicles. The DNA fragmentation in atretic goldfish follicles was similar to that measured in healthy vitellogenic and prematurational follicles; DNA fragmentation did not change after incubation. In the trout, postovulatory and oocytectomized vitellogenic follicles showed significantly greater in vitro susceptibility to apoptosis than intact vitellogenic follicles, whereas primary follicles were least susceptible. The TUNEL analyses revealed that in trout vitellogenic follicles, more thecal/epithelial cells than granulosa cells showed fragmented DNA in vivo, but incubation (24 h) did not result in increased apoptosis in cells of either type. These results indicate that apoptosis is involved in normal ovarian growth and postovulatory regression in teleosts, but that it does not appear to be an early event in teleost follicular atresia.
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