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J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;60(s1):S107-S131. doi: 10.3233/JAD-161221.

The DNA Damage Response in Neurons: Die by Apoptosis or Survive in a Senescence-Like State?

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The Ageing Biology Centre and Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.


Neurons are exposed to high levels of DNA damage from both physiological and pathological sources. Neurons are post-mitotic and their loss cannot be easily recovered from; to cope with DNA damage a complex pathway called the DNA damage response (DDR) has evolved. This recognizes the damage, and through kinases such as ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM) recruits and activates downstream factors that mediate either apoptosis or survival. This choice between these opposing outcomes integrates many inputs primarily through a number of key cross-road proteins, including ATM, p53, and p21. Evidence of re-entry into the cell-cycle by neurons can be seen in aging and diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. This aberrant cell-cycle re-entry is lethal and can lead to the apoptotic death of the neuron. Many downstream factors of the DDR promote cell-cycle arrest in response to damage and appear to protect neurons from apoptotic death. However, neurons surviving with a persistently activated DDR show all the features known from cell senescence; including metabolic dysregulation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and the hyper-production of pro-oxidant, pro-inflammatory and matrix-remodeling factors. These cells, termed senescence-like neurons, can negatively influence the extracellular environment and may promote induction of the same phenotype in surrounding cells, as well as driving aging and age-related diseases. Recently developed interventions targeting the DDR and/or the senescent phenotype in a range of non-neuronal tissues are being reviewed as they might become of therapeutic interest in neurodegenerative diseases.


Aging; DNA damage response; apoptosis; cell senescence; neurodegeneration

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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