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J Neurosci. 2000 Apr 15;20(8):2825-34.

Cytochrome c release and caspase activation in traumatic axonal injury.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23298-0709, USA.


Axonal injury is a feature of traumatic brain injury (TBI) contributing to both morbidity and mortality. The traumatic axon injury (TAI) results from focal perturbations of the axolemma, allowing for calcium influx triggering local intraaxonal cytoskeletal and mitochondrial damage. This mitochondrial damage has been posited to cause local bioenergetic failure, leading to axonal failure and disconnection; however, this mitochondrial damage may also lead to the release of cytochrome c (cyto-c), which then activates caspases with significant adverse intraaxonal consequences. In the current communication, we examine this possibility. Rats were subjected to TBI, perfused with aldehydes at 15-360 min after injury, and processed for light microscopic (LM) and electron microscopic (EM) single-labeling immunohistochemistry to detect extramitochondrially localized cytochrome c (cyto-c) and the signature protein of caspase-3 activation (120 kDa breakdown product of alpha-spectrin) in TAI. Combinations of double-labeling fluorescent immunohistochemistry (D-FIHC) were also used to demonstrate colocalization of calpain activation with cyto-c release and caspase-3-induction. In foci of TAI qualitative-quantitative LM demonstrated a parallel, significant increase in cyto-c release and caspase-3 activation over time after injury. EM analysis demonstrated that cyto-c and caspase-3 immunoreactivity were associated with mitochondrial swelling-disruption in sites of TAI. Furthermore, D-IFHC revealed a colocalization of calpain activation, cyto-c release, and caspase-3 induction in these foci, which also revealed progressive TAI. The results demonstrate that cyto-c and caspase-3 participate in the terminal processes of TAI. This suggests that those factors that play a role in the apoptosis in the neuronal soma are also major contributors to the demise of the axonal appendage.

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