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Neuroscience. 2003;119(2):387-97.

C-Jun N-terminal kinases/c-Jun and p38 pathways cooperate in ceramide-induced neuronal apoptosis.

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Laboratoire Signalisation Neuronale et Régulation Génique (UMR 7102), Case 12, 9 quai Saint Bernard, 75005 Paris, France.


Understanding the regulation of the apoptotic program in neurons by intracellular pathways is currently a subject of great interest. Recent results suggest that c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNK), mitogen-activated protein kinases and the transcription factor c-Jun are important regulators of this cell death program in post-mitotic neurons following survival-factor withdrawal. Our study demonstrates that ceramide levels increase upon survival-factor withdrawal in primary cultured cortical neurons. Furthermore, survival-factor withdrawal or addition of exogenous c(2)-ceramide induces JNK pathway activation in these cells. Western blot analyses of JNK and c-Jun using phospho-specific antibodies reveal that JNK and subsequent c-Jun phosphorylation occur hours before the initiation of apoptosis, reflected morphologically by neurite retraction and fragmentation, cell-body shrinkage and chromatin fragmentation. Immunocytochemistry using the same antibodies shows that phospho-JNK are localized in the neurites of control neurons and translocate to the nucleus where phospho-c-Jun concurrently appears upon ceramide-induced apoptosis. To determine if ceramide-induced c-Jun activation is responsible for the induction of the apoptotic program, we performed transient transfections of a dominant negative form of c-Jun, truncated in its transactivation region. Our results show that DNc-Jun partially protects cortical neurons from ceramide-induced apoptosis. Treatment of dominant negative c-Jun-expressing neurons with the pharmacological inhibitor of p38 kinase, SB203580, completely blocked neuronal death. Thus our data show that p38 and JNK/c-Jun pathways cooperate to induce neuronal apoptosis.

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