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J Neurochem. 2002 Aug;82(3):655-65.

Protective effects of docosahexaenoic acid in staurosporine-induced apoptosis: involvement of phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase pathway.

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Section of Mass Spectrometry, Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics, NIAAA, NIH, Rockville, Maryland 20852, USA.


Docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3, DHA) is highly enriched in neuronal membranes and is considered to be essential for proper brain function. We have previously demonstrated in Neuro 2A cells that DHA as a membrane component protects cells from apoptotic death induced by serum deprivation (Kim et al. 2000). In the present study we demonstrate that staurosporine (ST) induces apoptosis in Neuro 2A cells and DHA enrichment prior to the ST treatment significantly inhibits the apoptotic cell death, as evidenced by the reduction of caspase-3 activity, cleavage of pro-caspase-3 to active caspase-3, DNA strand-breaking and laddering. Enrichment of cells with other fatty acids such as oleic and arachidonic acids did not exert such an effect, indicating that the antiapoptotic effect was specific to DHA enrichment. Among the several protein kinase inhibitors, only phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K) inhibitors, wortmanin, and LY-294002 abolished the protective effect of DHA in ST-induced apoptosis. Concurrently, ST-treatment significantly decreased the phosphorylation status of Akt at Ser-473 and Thr-308 as well as Akt activity, and this reduction was partially prevented by DHA enrichment. The extent of the antiapoptotic effect of DHA correlated with a time-dependent increase in the phosphatidylserine (PS) content upon DHA enrichment. When cells were enriched with DHA in serine-free medium, the PS increase diminished and the DHA effect on caspase-3 activation as well as Akt phosphorylation in ST-induced apoptosis was no longer apparent, suggesting that DHA's role in accumulating membrane PS is an important component for the observed protection. In summary, DHA enrichment uniquely protects ST-induced apoptosis in a PS- and PI3-K-dependent manner. From these data, we suggest that the antiapoptotic effect of DHA is mediated at least in part through the PI3-K/Akt pathway, facilitated by DHA-induced PS accumulation.

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