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J Neurochem. 2001 Jul;78(1):163-74.

Survival promotion of mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons by depolarizing concentrations of K+ requires concurrent inactivation of NMDA or AMPA/kainate receptors.

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INSERM U289, Experimental Neurology and Therapeutics, Hôpital de la Salpêtríere, 47 Boulevard de l'Hôpital, 75013 Paris, France.


The death of dopaminergic neurons that occurs spontaneously in mesencephalic cultures was prevented by depolarizing concentrations of K+ (20-50 mM). However, unlike that observed previously in other neuronal populations of the PNS or CNS, promotion of survival required concurrent blockade of either NMDA or alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA)/kainate receptors by the specific antagonists, MK-801 and GYKI-52466, respectively. Rescued neurons appeared to be healthy and functional because the same treatment also dramatically enhanced their capacity to accumulate dopamine. The effects on survival and uptake were rather specific to dopaminergic neurons, rapidly reversible and still observed when treatment was delayed after plating. Glutamate release increased substantially in the presence of elevated concentrations of K+, and chronic treatment with glutamate induced a loss of dopaminergic neurons that was prevented by MK-801 or GYKI-52466 suggesting that an excitotoxic process interfered with survival when only the depolarizing treatment was applied. The effects of the depolarizing stimulus in the presence of MK-801 were mimicked by BAY K-8644 and abolished by nifedipine, suggesting that neuroprotection resulted from Ca(2+) influx through L-type calcium channels. Measurement of intracellular calcium revealed that MK-801 or GYKI-52466 were required to maintain Ca(2+) levels within a trophic range, thus preventing K+-induced excitotoxic stress and Ca(2+) overload. Altogether, our results suggest that dopaminergic neurons may require a finely tuned interplay between glutamatergic receptors and calcium channels for their development and maturation.

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