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Brain Res. 2007 May 30;1150:174-81. Epub 2007 Mar 7.

Transcription factor p53 in degenerating spinal cords.

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Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Research and Development 151, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, Bay Pines, FL 33744, USA.


The causes of spinal cord cell loss in motor neuron disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are currently unknown. A role can be postulated for the transcription factor p53, which can induce apoptosis via upregulation of proapoptotic genes (e.g., Bax) and inhibition of antiapoptotic genes (e.g., Bcl-2). A model of motor neuron loss is the wobbler mouse that exhibits rapid motor neuron cell death as well as motor deficit from 21 days after birth. Affymetrix microarray data from wobbler mice demonstrate a 2.2-fold increase in p53 signal compared with their normal littermates, whereas qRT-PCR of RNA from laser capture microdissected ventral horns of normal and wobbler mice reveals a larger 6.6-fold increase in gene expression and this was supported by western blotting. Human ventral horns obtained from ALS and age-matched normal spinal cords also demonstrated an increase (2.7-fold) in p53 expression as determined by qRT-PCR. Evidence of a causative role for p53 in spinal cord cell death was provided by use of a p53 inhibitor, pifithrin-alpha, in organotypic slice cultures of mouse spinal cord. A 24-h pretreatment with pifithrin-alpha (and continuing in the presence of insult), significantly reduced the toxicity of a 48-h treatment with FeSO(4), tested with the MTT viability assay. These results indicate that p53 plays a functional role in oxidative stress-induced cell death and supports the possibility that elevated p53 could be involved in motor neuron death in ALS and the wobbler mouse.

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