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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 22;108(12):4986-90. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1019591108. Epub 2011 Mar 7.

Nitric oxide prevents axonal degeneration by inducing HIF-1-dependent expression of erythropoietin.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA.


Nitric oxide (NO) is a signaling molecule that can trigger adaptive (physiological) or maladaptive (pathological) responses to stress stimuli in a context-dependent manner. We have previously reported that NO may signal axonal injury to neighboring glial cells. In this study, we show that mice deficient in neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS-/-) are more vulnerable than WT mice to toxin-induced peripheral neuropathy. The administration of NO donors to primary dorsal root ganglion cultures prevents axonal degeneration induced by acrylamide in a dose-dependent manner. We demonstrate that NO-induced axonal protection is dependent on hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1-mediated transcription of erythropoietin (EPO) within glial (Schwann) cells present in the cultures. Transduction of Schwann cells with adenovirus AdCA5 encoding a constitutively active form of HIF-1α results in amelioration of acrylamide-induced axonal degeneration in an EPO-dependent manner. Mice that are partially deficient in HIF-1α (HIF-1α+/-) are also more susceptible than WT littermates to toxic neuropathy. Our results indicate that NO→HIF-1→EPO signaling represents an adaptive mechanism that protects against axonal degeneration.

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