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J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2002 May;22(5):534-46.

Cloning and characterization of rat caspase-9: implications for a role in mediating caspase-3 activation and hippocampal cell death after transient cerebral ischemia.

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  • 1Department of Neurology and Pittsburgh Institute of Neurological Disorders, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Biomedical Science Tower, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, U.S.A.


Delayed hippocampal neurodegeneration after transient global ischemia is mediated, at least in part, through the activation of terminal caspases, particularly caspase-3, and the subsequent proteolytic degradation of critical cellular proteins. Caspase-3 may be activated by the membrane receptor-initiated caspase-8-dependent extrinsic pathway and the mitochondria-initiated caspase-9-dependent intrinsic pathway; however, the precise role of these deduced apoptosis-signaling pathways in activating caspase-3 in ischemic neurons remains elusive. The authors cloned the caspase-9 gene from the rat brain and investigated its potential role in mediating ischemic neuronal death in a rat model of transient global ischemia. Caspase-9 gene expression and protease activity were extremely low in the adult brain, whereas they were developmentally upregulated in newborn rats, especially at postnatal 12 weeks, a finding consistent with the theory of an essential role for caspase-9 in neuronal apoptosis during brain development. After 15-minute transient global ischemia, caspase-9 was overexpressed and proteolytically activated in the hippocampal CA1 neurons at 8 to 72 hours of reperfusion. The temporal profile of caspase-9 activation coincided with that of cytochrome c release and caspase-3 activation, but preceded CA1 neuronal death. Immunoprecipitation experiments revealed that there was enhanced formation of Apaf-1/caspase-9 complex in the hippocampus 8 and 24 hours after ischemia. Furthermore, intracerebral ventricular infusion of the relatively specific caspase-9 inhibitor N-benzyloxycarbonyl-Leu-Glu-His-Asp-fluoro-methylketone before ischemia attenuated caspase-3-like activity and significantly enhanced neuronal survival in the CA1 sector. In contrast, inhibition of caspase-8 activity had no significant effect on caspase-3 activation or neuronal survival. These results suggest that the caspase-9-dependent intrinsic pathway may be the primary mechanism responsible for the activation of caspase-3 in ischemic hippocampal neurons.

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