Programmed cell death in the pancreas of Bufo bufo during metamorphosis


Correspondence to Dr F. Accordi, Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell'Uomo, Università‘La Sapienza’, Viale dell'Università 32, 00185 Rome, Italy. Fax: 0039-6-4958259; e-mail:


Programmed cell death or apoptosis occurred in anuran amphibian larval pancreas as a remodelling agent, and was responsible for the reduction of the gland volume during metamorphosis. Apoptotic cells were recognisable by their morphological characteristics and could be immunocytochemically detected by means of the TUNEL reaction, which evidenced nuclear DNA fragmentation. During the last stages of prometamorphosis, that is in the period of hindlimb differentiation, only a few TUNEL positive cells occurred, whereas they increased at the beginning of metamorphic climax, that is at forelimb emergence and during tail regression. Under the electron microscope, the typical morphological characteristics of apoptosis were observed: decrease in size, and the presence of wide intercellular spaces and nuclei with dense chromatin masses arranged in crescents. The fragmentation of these cells produced the so-called ‘apoptotic bodies’: portions of cytoplasm lined by a membrane, containing nuclear fragments and cytoplasmic organites. Dead cell elimination is hypothesised to occur by phagocytic ingestion.