Transforming growth factor alpha (TGFA) is produced by epithelial cells in the oviducts and uteri and has the potential to act as an anti-apoptotic factor on preimplantation embryos expressing its receptor. Previously, we demonstrated that survivin (also known as BIRC5), an anti-apoptotic gene expressed in mouse preimplantation embryos, protects embryos from apoptosis. In this study, we investigated the role of survivin on TGFA-mediated inhibition of apoptosis in mouse blastocysts. Under the suboptimal conditions produced by single embryo culture, blastocysts showed an increase of apoptosis that correlated with a decrease of survivin expression. TGFA treatment significantly decreased apoptosis and increased the levels of survivin mRNA in a dose-dependent manner in blastocyst, and conversely, these activities were neutralized by an anti-TGFA antibody. Antibody treatment alone exerted little effect on either the occurrence of apoptosis or the levels of survivin mRNA. Upregulation of survivin expression by TGFA treatment was insignificant before the blastocyst stage. Using an antisense approach, we examined whether upregulation of survivin is responsible for the anti-apoptotic effect of TGFA in blastocysts. Apoptosis was inhibited by TGFA treatment in blastocysts, but the effect was abrogated by cotreatment with antisense oligonucleotides directed against survivin. These data suggest that survivin contributes to the anti-apoptotic activities of TGFA in blastocysts. We also found that the upregulation of survivin expression was mediated by activation of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathway. Thus, TGFA inhibits apoptosis in mouse blastocysts through upregulation of survivin expression via the PI3K pathway.
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