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J Biol Chem. 2003 Oct 31;278(44):43329-39. Epub 2003 Jul 29.

Astrocyte protection of neurons: role of transforming growth factor-beta signaling via a c-Jun-AP-1 protective pathway.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Program in Neurobiology, and Department of Neurology, School of Medicine, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, Georgia 30912, USA.


Astrocytes have become a focal point for research in neurobiology, especially regarding their purported ability to regulate neuronal communication and survival. The present study addressed a poorly understood but important focus in this area, the mechanism(s) underlying astrocyte-induced survival of neurons. The results of the study show that soluble factors in astrocyte-conditioned media (ACM) protect murine GT1-7 neurons from serum deprivation-induced cell death and that this neuroprotection is correlated with enhanced activation/phosphorylation of the AP-1 transcription factor, c-JunSer-63. A parallel and correlated activation of the upstream kinases, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase-4 (MKK4) was also demonstrated. Furthermore, co-administration of JNK inhibitors, but not a MEK inhibitor, significantly attenuated ACM-induced phosphorylation of c-JunSer-63 and blocked its neuroprotective action. Gel shift analysis demonstrated that ACM enhanced AP-1 binding, an effect that appears functionally important, since an AP-1 binding inhibitor significantly attenuated the neuroprotective action of ACM. Further studies implicated transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta1 and TGF-beta2 as critical active soluble factors released by astrocytes, since both were demonstrated in ACM, and immunoneutralization of the conditioned media with a panspecific TGF-beta antibody significantly attenuated the enhanced AP-1 binding and neuroprotective action of the ACM. Furthermore, exogenous application of TGF-beta1 and TGF-beta2 was found to enhance c-JunSer-63 phosphorylation and to be neuroprotective, and co-administration of JNK inhibitors or an AP-1 binding inhibitor blocked TGF-beta-induced neuroprotection. Taken together, these studies suggest that astrocytes can protect neurons from serum deprivation-induced cell death, at least in part, by release of TGF-beta and activation of a c-Jun/AP-1 protective pathway.

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