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J Neurochem. 1999 Jul;73(1):322-33.

Activation of caspase-3 in developmental models of programmed cell death in neurons of the substantia nigra.

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Department of Neurology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York 10032, USA.


Programmed cell death has been proposed to play a role in the death of neurons in acute and chronic degenerative neurologic disease. There is now evidence that the caspases, a family of cysteine proteases, mediate programmed cell death in various cells. In neurons, caspase-3 (CPP32/Yama/apopain), in particular, has been proposed to play a role. We examined the expression of caspase-3 in three models of programmed cell death affecting neurons of the substantia nigra in the rat: natural developmental neuron death and induced developmental death following either striatal target injury with quinolinic acid or dopamine terminal lesion with intrastriatal injection of 6-hydroxydopamine. Using an antibody to the large (p17) subunit of activated caspase-3, we have found that activated enzyme is expressed in apoptotic profiles in all models. Increased p17 immunostaining correlated with increased enzyme activity. The subcellular distribution of activated caspase-3 differed among the models: In natural cell death and the target injury model, it was strictly nuclear, whereas in the toxin model, it was also cytoplasmic. We conclude that p17 immunostaining is a useful marker for programmed cell death in neurons of the substantia nigra.

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