In situ detection and quantification of bursa of fabricius cellular proliferation or apoptosis in normal or steroid-treated neonatal chicks.
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Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is believed to be the mechanism for depletion of lymphocytes recognizing self-antigens following clonal expansion in the bursa of Fabricius. Although bursal apoptosis has previously been shown to increase following in vivo exposure to glucocorticoids, the microanatomical site of induced or normal apoptosis has not been unequivocally established. Presently, we adapted the existing terminal deoxynucleotidal transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) assay for use with neonatal bursae. Similar to previous reports, TUNEL revealed that normal apoptosis is preferentially, but not exclusively, ongoing in bursal follicular cortical cells. Administration of a single dose of a synthetic glucocorticoid (dexamethasone) or androgen (19-nortestosterone) did not significantly (P < 0.05) alter follicular lymphocyte numbers or apoptosis per unit of area at the time points evaluated post-administration (6 or 24 h). However, administration of 19-Nortestosterone increased the interfollicular epithelial thickness, a change usually associated with edema, within 6 h following treatment. Additionally, administration of the androgen 19-nortestosterone significantly decreased the number of proliferating cells as detected using mouse anti-proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) as a primary immunohistochemical antibody. In normal (control) bursal sections, occasional follicles consisting of predominantly apoptotic cells were observed (0.26% of follicles). Such follicles were consistently one-tenth the area of normal follicles. This incidental finding may suggest occasional occurrence of a common signal for deletion, such as a common integral or clonal mistake, viral infection, or an aberrant paracrine signal.