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Neuroscience. 2002;110(4):605-16.

Mild traumatic brain injury induces apoptotic cell death in the cortex that is preceded by decreases in cellular Bcl-2 immunoreactivity.

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  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


Although mild traumatic brain injury is associated with behavioral dysfunction and histopathological alterations, few studies have assessed the temporal pattern of regional apoptosis following mild brain injury. Anesthetized rats were subjected to mild lateral fluid-percussion brain injury (1.1-1.3 atm), and brains were evaluated for the presence of in situ DNA fragmentation (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end-labeling, TUNEL) and morphologic characteristics of apoptotic cell death (nuclear and cytoplasmic condensation, presence of apoptotic bodies). Significant numbers of apoptotic TUNEL(+) cells were observed in the injured parietal cortex and underlying white matter up to 72 h post-injury (P<0.05 compared to sham-injured-injured), with maximal numbers present at 24 h. Apoptosis was confirmed by the presence of 180-200 bp nuclear DNA fragments in tissue homogenates. The appearance of apoptotic TUNEL(+) cells in the injured cortex was preceded by a marked decrease in immunoreactivity for the anti-cell death protein, Bcl-2, as early as 2 h post-injury. This decrease in cellular Bcl-2 staining was not accompanied by a concomitant loss of staining for the pro-cell death Bax protein, suggesting that post-traumatic neuronal death in the cortex may be dependent on altered cellular ratios of Bcl-2:Bax. In the hippocampus, no significant increase in apoptotic TUNEL(+) cells was observed compared to sham-injured-injured animals. However, selective neuronal loss was evident in the CA3 region at 24 h post-injury, that was preceded by an overt loss of neuronal Bcl-2 immunoreactivity at 6 h. No changes in either cellular Bcl-2 or Bax expression were observed in the thalamus or white matter at any time post-injury. Taken together from these data, we suggest that apoptosis contributes to cell death in both gray and white matter, and that decreases in cellular Bcl-2 may, in part, be associated with both apoptotic and non-apoptotic cell death following mild brain trauma.

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