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Neuroscience. 2000;98(1):41-53.

Kainic acid-induced seizures produce necrotic, not apoptotic, neurons with internucleosomal DNA cleavage: implications for programmed cell death mechanisms.

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Experimental Neurology Laboratory, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center and Nursing Home Care Unit, Sepulveda CA 91343, USA.


Prolonged seizures (status epilepticus) induced by kainic acid activate programmed cell death mechanisms, and it is believed that kainic acid-induced status epilepticus induces neuronal apoptosis. In order to test this hypothesis, adult rats were subjected to 3-h kainic acid-induced seizures, with 24- or 72-h recovery periods. Neuronal death was assessed by light microscopy with the Hematoxylin and Eosin stain and with in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL stain), by electron microscopy, and by agarose gel electrophoresis of DNA extracted from five vulnerable brain regions. Spontaneous and MK-801-induced apoptotic neurons from retrosplenial cortex of neonatal rats, evaluated by light and electron microscopy, were used as positive controls for apoptosis. Surprisingly, the large chromatin clumps of apoptotic neurons were TUNEL negative, whereas the cytoplasm showed light-to-moderate TUNEL staining, consistent with a lack of identifiable nuclear membranes ultrastructurally, and with intermingling of nuclear and cytoplasmic contents. Ultrastructurally, the acidophilic neurons produced by kainic acid-induced status epilepticus, identified with Hematoxylin and Eosin stain, were dark, shrunken and necrotic, with pyknotic nuclei containing small, dispersed chromatin clumps, and with cytoplasmic vacuoles, some of which were swollen, disrupted mitochondria. No apoptotic cells were seen. Acidophilic neurons were found in up to 20 of 23 brain regions examined and comprised 10-25% of the total number of neurons examined. A subset of these neurons (<10% of the total number of neurons in five of 23 regions) had TUNEL-positive nuclei 72h but not 24h after status epilepticus. Internucleosomal DNA cleavage (DNA "laddering") occurred in the four most damaged brain regions examined by electron microscopy 24h after SE and the three most damaged regions 72h after status epilepticus. Our results demonstrate that kainic acid-induced status epilepticus produces neuronal necrosis and not apoptosis in adult rats. The necrotic neurons show nuclear pyknosis, chromatin condensation and DNA laddering. Programmed cell death mechanisms activated by kainic acid-induced status epilepticus occur in neurons which become necrotic and could contribute to necrotic, as well as apoptotic, neuronal death.

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