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Apoptosis and brain ischaemia.

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Department of Neuropathology, Institute of Clinical Neurosciences, Frenchay Hospital, BS16 1LE, Bristol, UK.


There is increasing evidence that some neuronal death after brain ischaemia is mediated by the action of cysteine-requiring aspartate-directed proteases (caspases), the proteases responsible for apoptosis in mammals, although this form of neuronal death is not always accompanied by the morphological changes that are typical of apoptosis in other tissues. Caspase-mediated neuronal death is more extensive after transient than permanent focal brain ischaemia and may contribute to delayed loss of neurons from the penumbral region of infarcts. The activation of caspases after brain ischaemia is largely consequent on the translocation of Bax, Bak, and other BH3-only members of the Bcl-2 family to the mitochondrial outer membrane and the release of cytochrome c, procaspase-9, and apoptosis activating factor-1 (Apaf-1) from the mitochondrial intermembrane space. How exactly ischaemia induces this translocation is still poorly understood. NF-kappaB, the c-jun N-terminal kinase-c-Jun pathway, p53, E2F1, and other transcription factors are probably all involved in regulating the expression of BH3-only proteins after brain ischaemia, and mitochondrial translocation of Bad from sequestering cytosolic proteins is promoted by inactivation of the serine-threonine kinase, Akt. Other processes that are probably involved in the activation of caspases after brain ischaemia include the mitochondrial release of the second mitochondrial activator of caspases (Smac) or direct inhibitor-of-apoptosis-binding protein with low pI (DIABLO), the accumulation of products of lipid peroxidation, a marked reduction in protein synthesis, and the aberrant reentry of neurons into the cell cycle. Non-caspase-mediated neuronal apoptosis may also occur, but there is little evidence to date that this makes a significant contribution to brain damage after ischaemia. The intracellular processes that contribute to caspase-mediated neuronal death after ischaemia are all potential targets for therapy. However, anti-apoptotic interventions in stroke patients will require detailed evaluation using a range of outcome measures, as some such interventions seem simply to delay neuronal death and others to preserve neurons but not neuronal function.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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