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Neuroscience. 2007 Dec 12;150(3):563-74. Epub 2007 Oct 11.

Enhanced cell death in MeCP2 null cerebellar granule neurons exposed to excitotoxicity and hypoxia.

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1
The Kennedy Krieger Research Institute, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.

Abstract

Rett syndrome (RTT) is associated with mutations in the transcriptional repressor gene MeCP2. Although the clinical and neuropathological signs of RTT suggest disrupted synaptic function, the specific role of methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) in postmitotic neurons remains relatively unknown. We examined whether MeCP2 deficiency in central neurons contributes to the neuropathogenesis in RTT. Primary cerebellar granule neuronal cultures from wild-type (WT) and MeCP2-/- mice were exposed to N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) and AMPA-induced excitotoxicity and hypoxic-ischemic insult. The magnitude of cell death in MeCP2-/- cells after excitotoxicity and hypoxia was greater than in the WT littermate control cultures and occurred after shorter exposures that usually, in the WT, would not cause cell death. Pretreatment with the growth factor fibroblast growth factor 1 (FGF-1) under conditions at which WT cells showed complete neuroprotection, only partially protected MeCP2-/- cells. To elucidate specifically the effects of MeCP2 knockout (KO) on cell death, we examined two death cascade pathways. MeCP2-/- neurons exposed to 6 h of hypoxia exhibited enhanced activation of the proapoptotic caspase-3 and increased mitochondrial release of apoptosis inducing factor (AIF) compared with WT neurons, which did not show significant changes. However, pretreatment with the caspase inhibitor ZVAD-FMK had little or no effect on AIF release and its subcellular translocation to the nucleus, suggesting caspase-independent AIF release and their independent contribution to hypoxia-induced cell death. Reintroduction of intact MeCP2 gene in MeCP2-/- cells or MeCP2 gene silencing by MeCP2siRNA in WT cells further confirmed the differential sensitivity of the WT and MeCP2-/- cells and suggest a direct role of MeCP2 in cell death. These results clearly demonstrate increased cell death occurred in neurons lacking MeCP2 expression via both caspase- and AIF-dependent apoptotic mechanisms. Our findings suggest a novel, yet unknown, role for MeCP2 in central neurons in the control of neuronal response to cell death.

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