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Cell death is a process for maintaining homeostasis in tissues and organs. In the ovary, apoptotic cell death has been implicated in follicular atresia; in the elimination of the follicles that are not ovulated during adult life. Recent studies indicate that apoptosis and autophagy are two programmed processes of cell death. Apoptosis is performed by proteases called caspases and leads to such morphological traits as DNA fragmentation. Autophagy, in turn, is characterized by the exacerbated formation of autophagosomes; a process in which the amount of the LC3 and Lamp 1 proteins increases. In this study, oocytes from all stages of the estrous cycle of Wistar rats were analyzed. The apoptosis process was identified by immunodetecting active Caspase-3 and locating DNA fragmentation using the TUNEL technique. Autophagy was evaluated through immunodetection of the LC3 and Lamp 1 proteins, and by ultrastructural localization of autophagic vesicle formation. All techniques were conducted using the same oocytes. Results show that all phases of the estrous cycle contain dying oocytes that test positive simultaneously for apoptosis and autophagy markers. The highest level of apoptosis was found during estrus; while the proestrous stage had the highest level of autophagy. The diestrous and metestrous phases were characterized by a high frequency of the presence of markers of apoptosis and autophagy in the same oocyte. Our results demonstrate that during oocyte elimination in adult rats the proteins involved in both processes, apoptosis and autophagy, are present in the same cell at the same time.
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