Cytokines and the Regulation of Apoptosis in Reproductive Tissues: A Review Journal Articles uri icon

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  • PROBLEM: To determine the role of apoptosis‐regulating genes bax and bcl‐2 in reproduction.METHOD OF STUDY: Review of literature and current data.RESULTS: The bcl‐2 family of apoptotic regulatory gene products interact and form dimers of anti‐ and pro‐apoptotic proteins (e.g., bcl‐2 and bax respectively), the ratio of which determines cell death or survival. Menses is associated with increased apoptosis in the glands, a change in bcl‐2:bax ratio and increased levels of the pro‐apoptotic cytokine TNFα. Apoptosis occurs in all placental cell types and increases from first to third trimester. Placental apoptosis is induced by TNFα in vitro and increased levels in utero characterize most failing pregnancies, intra‐uterine growth restriction (IUGR) and labour. An increased bcl‐2:bax ratio and apoptosis in the syncytiotrophoblast characterizes failing first trimester pregnancies. Apoptosis in the syncytiotrophoblast is also associated with IUGR. In a rat model, maternal vitamin A deficiency perturbs fetal development. This is associated with a placental infiltrate of TNFα positive neutrophils (day 20) and increased placental apoptosis in areas of infiltration. A similar infiltrate occurs in a mouse model of early pregnancy loss. In the fetal membranes, clusters of bcl‐2 negative chorion trophoblast cells undergo apoptosis. This may allow passage of myometrial stimulatory factors that induce labour.CONCLUSION: The ratio of bcl‐2:bax is crucial in the regulation of apoptosis, particularly in the human placenta. Changes in trophoblast apoptosis characterize (1) early pregnancy failure, (2) IUGR and (3) pre‐term and term labour. Regardless of gestational age, TNFα plays a major role in the induction of placental apoptosis.


  • Lea, Richard G
  • Riley, Simon C
  • Antipatis, Christos
  • Hannah, Lisa
  • Ashworth, Cheryl J
  • Clark, David Alexander
  • Critchley, Hilary OD

publication date

  • August 1999