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Purinergic Signal. 2005 Dec;1(4):337-47. doi: 10.1007/s11302-005-7145-5. Epub 2005 Dec 3.

P2X(7) nucleotide receptors mediate caspase-8/9/3-dependent apoptosis in rat primary cortical neurons.

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Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri, USA.


Apoptosis is a major cause of cell death in the nervous system. It plays a role in embryonic and early postnatal brain development and contributes to the pathology of neurodegenerative diseases. Here, we report that activation of the P2X(7) nucleotide receptor (P2X(7)R) in rat primary cortical neurons (rPCNs) causes biochemical (i.e., caspase activation) and morphological (i.e., nuclear condensation and DNA fragmentation) changes characteristic of apoptotic cell death. Caspase-3 activation and DNA fragmentation in rPCNs induced by the P2X(7)R agonist BzATP were inhibited by the P2X(7)R antagonist oxidized ATP (oATP) or by pre-treatment of cells with P2X(7)R antisense oligonucleotide indicating a direct involvement of the P2X(7)R in nucleotide-induced neuronal cell death. Moreover, Z-DEVD-FMK, a specific and irreversible cell permeable inhibitor of caspase-3, prevented BzATP-induced apoptosis in rPCNs. In addition, a specific caspase-8 inhibitor, Ac-IETD-CHO, significantly attenuated BzATP-induced caspase-9 and caspase-3 activation, suggesting that P2X(7)R-mediated apoptosis in rPCNs occurs primarily through an intrinsic caspase-8/9/3 activation pathway. BzATP also induced the activation of C-jun N-terminal kinase 1 (JNK1) and extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2) in rPCNs, and pharmacological inhibition of either JNK1 or ERK1/2 significantly reduced caspase activation by BzATP. Taken together, these data indicate that extracellular nucleotides mediate neuronal apoptosis through activation of P2X(7)Rs and their downstream signaling pathways involving JNK1, ERK and caspases 8/9/3.

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