In the vertebrate ovary, apoptosis is the process by which excess or non-viable germ and granulosa cells are eliminated early in ontogeny (often beginning before birth), and thereafter continuously throughout reproductive life. Accordingly, an excessively high rate or abnormal triggering of such cell death (and, by implication, follicle atresia) can negatively affect fertility. Programmed cell death involves the integration of many pathways and intracellular proteins, and central among these at almost every stage are members of the caspase family. Relatively little attention has been focused upon the ovary with regards to elucidating initiator and effector members of the caspase family, and pathways by which they are activated and inactivated. The present review briefly describes vertebrate caspases and the regulation of their function in non-ovarian tissues. Subsequently, the status of caspase expression and function in orchestrating apoptotic cell death in ovarian germ and follicle somatic cells is considered. The most compelling results implicating specific caspases in ovarian function have been derived from mouse single and double knockout model systems. The final outcome of continued studies, in addition to providing information regarding understanding and management of infertility, will influence the development of strategies to treat ovarian cancers and ameliorate the adverse effects of their therapy (for example, chemotherapy).
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Reproductive Medicine
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Cell Biology