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J Neurosci. 2002 Jun 1;22(11):4670-4.

bcl-2 Overexpression eliminates deprivation-induced cell death of brainstem auditory neurons.

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  • 1Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center and Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195.


Deprivation of afferent input in young animals results in transneuronal degeneration of postsynaptic sensory neurons in a variety of species and sensory pathways. Transneuronal degeneration is generally not seen in adult animals. The cellular and molecular basis for this dramatic developmental change in susceptibility is not understood. One possibility is that genes involved in the apoptotic process are involved in determining cell death or survival after afferent deprivation. To further investigate this possibility, we performed unilateral cochlear ablation on wild-type and bcl-2-overexpressing mice at a variety of ages. In postnatal day 5 (P5) or P8 wild-type mice, cochlea removal resulted in a 54% or 31% neuronal loss in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN), respectively. When the same manipulation is performed on a P30 mouse, no loss of AVCN neurons occurs. This confirmed a rather abrupt change in the sensitivity to disruption of afferent input, a critical period. However, in littermates expressing bcl-2 under a neuron-specific enolase promoter, no significant loss of AVCN neurons was observed at any age after unilateral cochlear ablation. Furthermore, wild-type mice demonstrate rapid expression of activated caspase-3 in AVCN neurons within hours of deafferentation, whereas bcl-2-overexpressing mice do not. This suggests that bcl-2 can influence cell survival after removal of afferent input during the critical period and is consistent with the hypothesis that caspase-3 is one effector of cell death under these circumstances. These data are the first to indicate that known apoptotic mediators can play a role in central neuronal plasticity in models of afferent deprivation.

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