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J Neurochem. 2011 Aug;118(4):646-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2011.07273.x. Epub 2011 May 13.

CaMKII activation is a novel effector of alcohol's neurotoxicity in neural crest stem/progenitor cells.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Prenatal ethanol exposure causes significant neurodevelopmental deficits through its induction of apoptosis in neuronal progenitors including the neural crest. Using an established chick embryo model, we previously showed that clinically relevant ethanol concentrations cause neural crest apoptosis through mobilization of an intracellular calcium transient. How the calcium transient initiates this cell death is unknown. In this study, we identify CaMKII as the calcium target responsible for ethanol-induced apoptosis. Immunostaining revealed selective enrichment of activated phosphoCaMKII(Thr286) within ethanol-treated neural crest. CaMKII activation in response to ethanol was rapid (< 60 s) and robust, and CaMKII activity was increased 300% over control levels. Treatment with CaMKII-selective inhibitors but not those directed against CaMKIV or PKC completely prevented the cell death. Forced expression of dominant-negative CaMKII prevented ethanol's activation of CaMKII and prevented the ethanol-induced death, whereas constitutively active CaMKII in ethanol's absence significantly increased cell death to levels caused by ethanol treatment. In summary, CaMKII is the key signal that converts the ethanol-induced, short-lived Ca(i) (2+) transient into a long-lived cellular effector. This is the first identification of CaMKII as a critical mediator of ethanol-induced cell death. Because neural crest differentiates into several neuronal lineages, our findings offer novel insights into how ethanol disrupts early neurogenesis.

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