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J Neurosci. 2002 Aug 1;22(15):6401-7.

Neuroprotection by hypoxic preconditioning requires sequential activation of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor and Akt.

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Laboratory of Neurodegeneration, Department of Neurology, University of Tübingen, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Hypoxic preconditioning provides protection against ischemic brain lesions in animal models of cerebral ischemia-hypoxia. To analyze the underlying molecular mechanisms, we developed an in vitro model of hypoxic neuroprotection in cerebellar granule neurons (CGN) by reducing the oxygen tension to 1-5% for 1-24 hr. Exposure to 5% O2 for 9 hr resulted in reduction of cell death after potassium deprivation, treatment with 100 microm glutamate, or 500 microm 3-nitroproprioninc acid (3-NP) by 46, 22, and 55%, respectively. Shorter (1 or 3 hr) or longer (>12 hr) intervals or pretreatment with lower oxygen tension failed to rescue CGN from death. In contrast, toxicity of four different chemotherapeutic drugs [1-(2-chloroethyl)-3-cyclohexyl-1-nitrosourea, cisplatine, topotecane, and vincristine] was unaffected by hypoxic preconditioning. The induction of protective effects was dependent on new protein synthesis. Protein levels of B-cell lymphoma protein-2 (BCL-2), BCL-x(L/S), heat shock protein 70/90, and BCL-2-associated death protein remained unaltered. CGN incubated at 5% O2 for 9 hr showed increased levels of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), the VEGF receptor-2 (VEGFR-2), phosphorylated Akt/protein kinase B (PKB), and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 (ERK1). Incubation with a neutralizing anti-VEGF antibody, a monoclonal antibody to VEGFR-2, wortmannin, or antisense-Akt/PKB, but not treatment with U0126, an ERK-inhibitor, reverted the resistance acquired by hypoxic preconditioning. Inhibition of VEGFR-2 blocked the activation of Akt/PKB. Finally, pretreatment with recombinant VEGF resulted in a hypoxia-resistant phenotype in the absence of hypoxic preconditioning. Our data are indicating a sequential requirement for VEGF/VEGFR-2 activation and Akt/PKB phosphorylation for neuronal survival mediated by hypoxic preconditioning and propose VEGF as a hypoxia-induced neurotrophic factor.

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