Alterations in apoptosis and epithelial-mesenchymal transformation in an in vitro cleft palate model

Judith M. Gurley, M. Susann Wamsley, Linda J. Sandell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The processes of apoptosis and epithelial-mesenchymal transformation have been identified as two major mechanisms by which secondary palatal shelves achieve fusion. The aim of this study was to investigate alterations in these mechanisms by changing the physical distance between paired palatal shelves in an in vitro model of palatogenesis. Wild-type palatal pairs were dissected from E13.5 CD1 mouse embryos and allowed to grow in tissue culture for 48 hours at various intershelf distances. During the fusion process, medial edge epithelial cell fate was assessed using terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) staining, to evaluate apoptosis, and carboxyfluorescence (carboxy-2,7′-dichlorofluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester) labeling, to measure transformation to mesenchymal cells. Palatal pairs separated in culture greater than or equal to 0.4 mm failed to fuse. TUNEL staining showed that the number of apoptotic cells in the palatal shelves increased as the intershelf distance increased, becoming marked in shelves that did not achieve fusion. The amount of epithelial-mesenchymal transformation, however, decreased with increasing intershelf distance. These results suggest that the contribution of epithelial-mesenchymal transformation and apoptosis to palatal shelf development and fusion can be altered by physical proximity. Therefore, one mechanism behind clefting in utero may result from an imbalance in epithelial-mesenchymal transformation and apoptosis as observed in vitro where palatal shelves are challenged to fuse by physical separation. This effect could be significant in the understanding and treatment of developmental palatal abnormalities. Perhaps in utero manipulation of intershelf spacing or epithelial-mesenchymal transformation and/or apoptosis could reverse the clefting paradigm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907-914
Number of pages8
JournalPlastic and reconstructive surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2004


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