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J Biol Chem. 2006 Jun 16;281(24):16436-42. Epub 2006 Apr 18.

Opposing roles for ERK1/2 in neuronal oxidative toxicity: distinct mechanisms of ERK1/2 action at early versus late phases of oxidative stress.

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  • 1Center for Neuroscience and Department of Pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


Glutamate-induced oxidative toxicity is mediated by glutathione depletion in the HT22 mouse hippocampal cell line. Previous results with pharmacological agents implicated the extracellular signal-regulated kinases-1/2 (ERK1/2) in glutamate toxicity in HT22 cells and immature embryonic rat cortical neurons. In this report, we definitively establish a role for ERK1/2 in oxidative toxicity using dominant negative MEK1 expression in transiently transfected HT22 cells to block glutamate-induced cell death. In contrast, chronic activation of ERK (i.e. brought about by transfection of constitutively active ERK2 chimera) is not sufficient to trigger HT22 cell death demonstrating that ERK1/2 activation is not sufficient for toxicity. Activation of ERK1/2 in HT22 cells has a distinct kinetic profile with an initial peak occurring between 30 min and 1 h of glutamate treatment and a second peak typically emerging after 6 h. We demonstrate here that the initial phase of ERK1/2 induction is because of activation of metabotropic glutamate receptor type I (mGluRI). ERK1/2 activation by mGluRI contributes to an HT22 cell adaptive response to oxidative stress as glutamate-induced toxicity is enhanced upon pharmacological inhibition of mGluRI. The protective effect of ERK1/2 activation at early times after glutamate treatment is mediated by a restoration of glutathione (GSH) levels that are reduced because of depletion of intracellular cysteine pools. Thus, ERK1/2 appears to play dual roles in HT22 cells acting as part of a cellular adaptive response during the initial phases of glutamate-induced oxidative stress and contributing to toxicity during later stages of stress.

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