Arrested apoptosis of nurse cells during Hydra oogenesis and embryogenesis

Ulrich Technau, Technische Universität Darmstadt
Michael A. Miller, University of California, Irvine
Diane Bridge, University of California, Irvine
Robert E. Steele, University of California, Irvine


During Hydra oogenesis, an aggregate of germ cells differentiates into one oocyte and thousands of nurse cells. Nurse cells display a number of features typical of apoptotic cells and are phagocytosed by the growing oocyte. Yet, these cells remain unchanged in morphology and number until hatching of the polyp, which can occur up to 12 months later. Treatments with caspase inhibitors can block oocyte development during an early phase of oogenesis, but not after nurse cell phagocytosis has taken place, indicating that initiation of nurse cell apoptosis is essential for oocyte development. The genomic DNA of the phagocytosed nurse cells in the oocyte and embryo shows large-scale fragmentation into 8- to 15-kb pieces, but there is virtually none of the internucleosomal degradation typically seen in apoptotic cells. The arrested nurse cells exhibit high levels of peroxidase activity and are prevented from entering the lysosomal pathway. After hatching of the polyp, apoptosis is resumed and the nurse cells are degraded within 3 days. During this final stage, nurse cells become TUNEL-positive and enter secondary lysosomes in a strongly degraded state. Our results suggest that nurse cell apoptosis consists of caspase-dependent and caspase-independent phases. The independent phase can be arrested at an advanced stage for several months, only to resume after the primary polyp hatches. © 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.