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J Neurosci. 2001 May 15;21(10):3303-11.

p38 activation is required upstream of potassium current enhancement and caspase cleavage in thiol oxidant-induced neuronal apoptosis.

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Department of Neurobiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


Oxidant-induced neuronal apoptosis has been shown to involve potassium and zinc dysregulation, energetic dysfunction, activation of stress-related kinases, and caspase cleavage. The temporal ordering and interdependence of these events was investigated in primary neuronal cultures exposed to the sulfhydryl oxidizing agent 2,2'-dithiodipyridine (DTDP), a compound that induces the intracellular release of zinc. We previously observed that tetraethylammonium (TEA), high extracellular potassium, or cysteine protease inhibitors block apoptosis induced by DTDP. We now report that both p38 and extracellular signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation are evident in neuronal cultures within 2 hr of a brief exposure to 100 microm DTDP. However, only p38 inhibition is capable of blocking oxidant-induced toxicity. Cyclohexamide or actinomycin D does not attenuate DTDP-induced cell death, suggesting that posttranslational modification of existing targets, rather than transcriptional activation, is responsible for the deleterious effects of p38. Indeed, an early robust increase in TEA-sensitive potassium channel currents induced by DTDP is attenuated by p38 inhibition but not by caspase inhibition. Moreover, we found that activation of p38 is required for caspase 3 and 9 cleavage, suggesting that potassium currents enhancement is required for caspase activation. Finally, we observed that DTDP toxicity could be blocked with niacinamide or benzamide, inhibitors of poly (ADP-ribose) synthetase. Based on these findings, we conclude that oxidation of sulfhydryl groups on intracellular targets results in intracellular zinc release, p38 phosphorylation, enhancement of potassium currents, caspase cleavage, energetic dysfunction, and translationally independent apoptotic cell death.

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