Mitochondrial dysmorphology in the neuroepithelium of rat embryos following a single dose of maternal hyperthermia during gestation

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Hyperthermia is teratogenic to human and animal embryos and induces mainly anomalies of the nervous system. However, the teratogenic mechanism is poorly understood. Mammalian embryos are known to switch from anaerobic to aerobic metabolism around the time of neural tube closure. This critical event might be sensitive to hyperthermia. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the ultrastructural changes of the mitochondria of the neuroepithelium (NE) of rat embryos following maternal exposure to hyperthermia. Pregnant rats were heat stressed for an hour on gestation day (GD) 9 and embryos were examined by electron microscopy on GD 10. NE presented extensive apoptosis. Intercellular junctions were weakened and copious cellular debris projected into the ventricle. The mitochondria were of diverse size and shape. Most of them were swollen and had short cristae and electron dense matrix. Hydropic changes were also observed in numerous mitochondria. Lipid-laden mitochondria were found in the apical portions of neuroblasts. The mesenchyme (ME) of heat-treated embryos showed paucity of cells and only as frequent apoptosis as the controls. Their mitochondria also showed changes similar to those of the NE. Additionally extensive lipid accumulation was observed in and in the vicinity of mitochondria, often surrounded by short strands of endoplasmic reticulum. Whereas mitochondrial pathology was associated with profound apoptosis in the NE, growth restriction and lipid accumulation accompanied mitochondrial changes in the ME. The results of this study indicate that the embryonic response to maternal heat shock is tissue-specific and morphologically distinct in this species.

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