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J Mol Neurosci. 2015 Feb;55(2):509-18. doi: 10.1007/s12031-014-0372-x. Epub 2014 Jul 11.

Inhibition of neuronal p38α, but not p38β MAPK, provides neuroprotection against three different neurotoxic insults.

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Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 40536, USA.


The p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway plays a key role in pathological glial activation and neuroinflammatory responses. Our previous studies demonstrated that microglial p38α and not the p38β isoform is an important contributor to stressor-induced proinflammatory cytokine upregulation and glia-dependent neurotoxicity. However, the contribution of neuronal p38α and p38β isoforms in responses to neurotoxic agents is less well understood. In the current study, we used cortical neurons from wild-type or p38β knockout mice, and wild-type neurons treated with two highly selective inhibitors of p38α MAPK. Neurons were treated with one of three neurotoxic insults (L-glutamate, sodium nitroprusside, and oxygen-glucose deprivation), and neurotoxicity was assessed. All three stimuli led to neuronal death and neurite degeneration, and the degree of neurotoxicity induced in wild-type and p38β knockout neurons was not significantly different. In contrast, selective inhibition of neuronal p38α was neuroprotective. Our results show that neuronal p38β is not required for neurotoxicity induced by multiple toxic insults, but that p38α in the neuron contributes quantitatively to the neuronal dysfunction responses. These data are consistent with our previous findings of the critical importance of microglia p38α compared to p38β, and continue to support selective targeting of the p38α isoform as a potential therapeutic strategy.

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