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J Exp Med. 2012 Mar 12;209(3):521-35. doi: 10.1084/jem.20110698. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Stimulation of the neurotrophin receptor TrkB on astrocytes drives nitric oxide production and neurodegeneration.

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Institute of Experimental Neurology, San Raffaele Scientific Institute, 20132 Milan, Italy.


Neurotrophin growth factors support neuronal survival and function. In this study, we show that the expression of the neurotrophin receptor TrkB is induced on astrocytes in white matter lesions in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Surprisingly, mice lacking TrkB specifically in astrocytes were protected from EAE-induced neurodegeneration. In an in vitro assay, astrocytes stimulated with the TrkB agonist brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) released nitric oxide (NO), and conditioned medium from activated astrocytes had detrimental effects on the morphology and survival of neurons. This neurodegenerative process was amplified by NO produced by neurons. NO synthesis in the central nervous system during EAE depended on astrocyte TrkB. Together, these findings suggest that TrkB expression on astrocytes may represent a new target for neuroprotective therapies in MS.

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