Expression of BCL-2, BAX and BAK in the trophoblast layer of the term human placenta: A unique model of apoptosis within a syncytium

V. S. Ratts, X. J. Tao, C. B. Webster, P. E. Swanson, S. D. Smith, P. Brownbill, S. Krajewski, J. C. Reed, J. L. Tilly, D. M. Nelson

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88 Scopus citations


The regulation of apoptosis in the syncytiotrophoblast is of particular interest because this is the only true syncytial epithelium in human cell biology. Nuclei characteristic of apoptotic cells have been localized to this syncytium especially in association with fibrin-containing fibrinoid deposits. The factors responsible for regulating cell death-like features in the trophoblast syncytium are unknown. We tested the hypothesis that fibrin was required for trophoblast apoptosis. TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase-mediated dUTP end-labelling) staining to detect DNA fragmentation typical of apoptosis was performed in term human placentae revealing labelled nuclei associated with fibrin-type fibrinoid, as well as labelled nuclei in discrete areas of syncytiotrophoblast without fibrin. We also hypothesized that members of the BCL-2 family of apoptosis-associated proteins contribute to the regulation of syncytiotrophoblast apoptosis. To identify members of this protein family that might regulate trophoblast apoptosis, we assessed expression of three important members of the bcl-2 gene family. We used immunohistochemistry with monoclonal antisera against human BCL-2 and polyclonal antisera against human BAX and BAK to study paraffin-embedded sections of human term placentae (n = 5) from uncomplicated pregnancies. The anti-apoptotic BCL-2 protein was expressed throughout the syncytium of normal villi with much less staining in cytotrophoblast. Staining was also seen adjacent to fibrin deposits and in syncytium overlying fibrin deposits. Expression of the pro-apoptotic BAX protein was undetectable in the syncytiotrophoblast, was expressed in rare cytotrophoblast and was prominent in connective tissue and perivascular cells within the villous core. Localization of a second pro-apoptotic protein, BAK, revealed immunoreactivity in isolated areas of intact syncytium of normal villi. Additionally, fibrin deposits were associated with intense BAK staining in both syncytiotrophoblast and cytotrophoblast. From these data, we speculate that modulation of BAK expression is one factor regulating apoptosis in human trophoblast. (C) 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-366
Number of pages6
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2000


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