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J Neurosci. 2002 Jan 1;22(1):209-17.

Overexpression of copper/zinc superoxide dismutase in transgenic rats protects vulnerable neurons against ischemic damage by blocking the mitochondrial pathway of caspase activation.

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  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305-5487, USA.


Mitochondria are known to be involved in the early stage of apoptosis by releasing cytochrome c, caspase-9, and the second mitochondria-derived activator of caspases (Smac). We have reported that overexpression of copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1) reduced superoxide production and ameliorated neuronal injury in the hippocampal CA1 subregion after global ischemia. However, the role of oxygen free radicals produced after ischemia/reperfusion in the mitochondrial signaling pathway has not been clarified. Five minutes of global ischemia was induced in male SOD1-transgenic (Tg) and wild-type (Wt) littermate rats. Cytosolic expression of cytochrome c and Smac and activation of caspases were evaluated by immunohistochemistry, Western blot, and caspase activity assay. Apoptotic cell death was characterized by DNA nick end and single-stranded DNA labeling. In the Wt animals, early superoxide production, mitochondrial release of cytochrome c, Smac, and cleaved caspase-9 were observed after ischemia. Active caspase-3 was subsequently increased, and 85% of the hippocampal CA1 neurons showed apoptotic DNA damage 3 d after ischemia. Tg animals showed less superoxide production and cytochrome c and Smac release. Subsequent active caspase-3 expression was not evident, and only 45% of the neurons showed apoptotic DNA damage. A caspase-3 inhibitor (N-benzyloxycarbonyl-val-ala-asp-fluoromethyl ketone) reduced cell death only in Wt animals. These results suggest that overexpression of SOD1 reduced oxidative stress, thereby attenuating the mitochondrial release of cytochrome c and Smac, resulting in less caspase activation and apoptotic cell death. Oxygen free radicals may play a pivotal role in the mitochondrial signaling pathway of apoptotic cell death in hippocampal CA1 neurons after global ischemia.

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