We have previously demonstrated that initiation of intracellular calcium ([Ca2 ]i) oscillations in mouse eggs signals activation or apoptotic death depending on the age of the eggs in which the oscillations are induced. To extend these studies, mouse eggs were aged in vitro to 24, 32, and 40 h post-hCG and injected with sperm cytosolic factor (SF), adenophostin A, or sperm (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), and the times at which signs of apoptosis first appeared were examined. These treatments, which induced [Ca2 ]i oscillations, caused fragmentation and other signs of programmed cell death in eggs as early as 32 h post-hCG. The susceptibility of aged eggs to apoptosis appeared to be due to cytoplasmic deficiencies, because fusion of recently ovulated eggs with aged, SF-injected eggs prevented fragmentation. Evaluation of mRNA and protein levels of the apoptotic regulatory proteins Bcl-2 and Bax showed a prominent decrease in the amounts of Bcl-2 mRNA and protein in aged eggs, whereas Bax mRNA levels did not appear to be changed. Lastly, the Ca2 responses induced by the aforementioned Ca2 agonists ceased in advance in aged eggs. Together, these results suggest that one or several critical cytosolic molecules involved in the regulation of Ca2 homeostasis, and in maintaining the equilibrium between anti- and proapoptotic proteins, is either lost or inactivated during postovulatory egg aging, rendering the fertilizing Ca2 signal into an apoptosis-inducing signal.
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