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J Neurochem. 2005 Sep;94(6):1639-51. Epub 2005 Jul 11.

Androgens activate mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling: role in neuroprotection.

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Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089-0191, USA.


Recent evidence indicates that testosterone is neuroprotective, however, the underlying mechanism(s) remains to be elucidated. In this study, we investigated the hypothesis that androgens induce mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling in neurons, which subsequently drives neuroprotection. We observed that testosterone and its non-aromatizable metabolite dihydrotestosterone (DHT) rapidly and transiently activate MAPK in cultured hippocampal neurons, as evidenced by phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-1 and ERK-2. Importantly, pharmacological suppression of MAPK/ERK signaling blocked androgen-mediated neuroprotection against beta-amyloid toxicity. Androgen activation of MAPK/ERK and neuroprotection also was observed in PC12 cells stably transfected with androgen receptor (AR), but in neither wild-type nor empty vector-transfected PC12 cells. Downstream of ERK phosphorylation, we observed that DHT sequentially increases p90 kDa ribosomal S6 kinase (Rsk) phosphorylation and phosphorylation-dependent inactivation of Bcl-2-associated death protein (Bad). Prevention of androgen-induced phosphorylation of Rsk and Bad blocked androgen neuroprotection. These findings demonstrate AR-dependent androgen activation of MAPK/ERK signaling in neurons, and specifically identify a neuroprotective pathway involving downstream activation of Rsk and inactivation of Bad. Elucidation of androgen-mediated neural signaling cascades will provide important insights into the mechanisms of androgen action in brain, and may present a framework for therapeutic intervention of age-related neurodegenerative disorders.

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