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PLoS One. 2008;3(12):e4090. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004090. Epub 2008 Dec 31.

Opposing effects of sirtuins on neuronal survival: SIRT1-mediated neuroprotection is independent of its deacetylase activity.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX, USA.



Growing evidence suggests that sirtuins, a family of seven distinct NAD-dependent enzymes, are involved in the regulation of neuronal survival. Indeed, SIRT1 has been reported to protect against neuronal death, while SIRT2 promotes neurodegeneration. The effect of SIRTs 3-7 on the regulation of neuronal survival, if any, has yet to be reported.


We examined the effect of expressing each of the seven SIRT proteins in healthy cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs) or in neurons induced to die by low potassium (LK) treatment. We report that SIRT1 protects neurons from LK-induced apoptosis, while SIRT2, SIRT3 and SIRT6 induce apoptosis in otherwise healthy neurons. SIRT5 is generally localized to both the nucleus and cytoplasm of CGNs and exerts a protective effect. In a subset of neurons, however, SIRT5 localizes to the mitochondria and in this case it promotes neuronal death. Interestingly, the protective effect of SIRT1 in neurons is not reduced by treatments with nicotinamide or sirtinol, two pharmacological inhibitors of SIRT1. Neuroprotection was also observed with two separate mutant forms of SIRT1, H363Y and H355A, both of which lack deacetylase activity. Furthermore, LK-induced neuronal death was not prevented by resveratrol, a pharmacological activator of SIRT1, at concentrations at which it activates SIRT1. We extended our analysis to HT-22 neuroblastoma cells which can be induced to die by homocysteic acid treatment. While the effects of most of the SIRT proteins were similar to that observed in CGNs, SIRT6 was modestly protective against homocysteic acid toxicity in HT-22 cells. SIRT5 was generally localized in the mitochondria of HT-22 cells and was apoptotic.


Overall, our study makes three contributions - (a) it represents the first analysis of SIRT3-7 in the regulation of neuronal survival, (b) it shows that neuroprotection by SIRT1 can be mediated by a novel, non-catalytic mechanism, and (c) that subcellular localization may be an important determinant in the effect of SIRT5 on neuronal viability.

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