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Cell Calcium. 2003 Oct-Nov;34(4-5):325-37.

Molecular mechanisms of calcium-dependent neurodegeneration in excitotoxicity.

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Toronto Western Hospital Research Institute, 399 Bathurst Street, Ont. M5T 2S8, Toronto, Canada.


Excitotoxicity contributes to neuronal degeneration in many acute CNS diseases, including ischemia, trauma, and epilepsy, and may also play a role in chronic diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Key mediators of excitotoxic damage are Ca ions (Ca(2+)), which under physiological conditions govern a multitude of cellular processes, including cell growth, differentiation, and synaptic activity. Consequently, homeostatic mechanisms exist to maintain a low intracellular Ca(2+) ion concentration so that Ca(2+) signals remain spatially and temporally localized. This permits multiple independent Ca-mediated signaling pathways to occur in the same cell. In excitotoxicity, excessive synaptic release of glutamate can lead to the disregulation of Ca(2+) homeostasis. Glutamate activates postsynaptic receptors, including the ionotropic N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), 2-amino-3-(3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazol-4-yl) proprionate (AMPA), and kainate receptors. Upon their activation, these open their associated ion channel to allow the influx of Ca(2+) and Na(+) ions. Although physiological elevations in intracellular Ca(2+) are salient to normal cell functioning, the excessive influx of Ca(2+) together with any Ca(2+) release from intracellular compartments can overwhelm Ca(2+)-regulatory mechanisms and lead to cell death. Although Ca(2+) disregulation is paramount to neurodegeneration, the exact mechanism by which Ca(2+) ions actually mediate excitotoxicity is less clear. One hypothesis outlined in this review suggests that Ca(2+)-dependent neurotoxicity occurs following the activation of distinct signaling cascades downstream from key points of Ca(2+) entry at synapses, and that triggers of these cascades are physically co-localized with specific glutamate receptors. Thus, we summarize the importance of Ca(2+) regulation in mammalian neurons and the excitotoxicity hypothesis, and focus on the molecular determinants of glutamate receptor-mediated excitotoxic mechanisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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