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Glia. 2005 Jun;50(4):299-306.

Ischemia-induced programmed cell death in astrocytes.

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Department of Anesthesia, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Astrocytes are essential for neuronal survival and function, neurogenesis, and neural repair. Although astrocytes are more resistant than neurons to most stress conditions in vitro, certain astrocyte subtypes, such as the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-negative protoplasmic astrocytes that predominate in gray matter structures, may be equally or more sensitive than neurons to ischemia in vivo. Programmed cell death differs from passive, necrotic death in that cell constituents actively participate in cell demise. Like neurons, astrocytes undergo programmed cell death during normal development. Cell culture studies have shown that astrocytes can be induced to undergo apoptosis and other forms of programmed cell death by many factors relevant to ischemia, including acidosis, oxidative stress, substrate deprivation, and cytokines. Animal models of cerebral ischemia have confirmed nuclear condensation and upregulation of Bax and caspases in a subset of astrocytes exposed to ischemia, especially in immature brain. A causal role for these events in astrocyte death is supported by improved astrocyte survival after inhibition of caspase-dependent cell death pathways. Astrocyte survival is also improved by blocking the poly(ADP-ribose)-1 cell death pathway. Markers of programmed cell death are generally less evident and less widespread in astrocytes than in neighboring neurons. However, most studies to date have relied only on markers of classical apoptosis. In addition, these studies have relied almost exclusively on GFAP to identify astrocytes. Since most protoplasmic astrocytes are poorly immunoreactive for GFAP, the extent of ischemia-induced programmed cell death in this cell type remains uncertain.

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