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J Neurosci. 1998 Jul 1;18(13):4914-28.

Induction of caspase-3-like protease may mediate delayed neuronal death in the hippocampus after transient cerebral ischemia.

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Department of Neurology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.


Delayed neuronal death after transient cerebral ischemia may be mediated, in part, by the induction of apoptosis-regulatory gene products. Caspase-3 is a newly characterized mammalian cysteine protease that promotes cell death during brain development, in neuronal cultures, and in other cell types under many different conditions. To determine whether caspase-3 serves to regulate neuronal death after cerebral ischemia, we have (1) cloned a cDNA encoding the rat brain caspase-3; (2) examined caspase-3 mRNA and protein expression in the brain using in situ hybridization, Northern and Western blot analyses, and double-labeled immunohistochemistry; (3) determined caspase-3-like activity in brain cell extracts; and (4) studied the effect of caspase-3 inhibition on cell survival and DNA fragmentation in the hippocampus in a rat model of transient global ischemia. At 8-72 hr after ischemia, caspase-3 mRNA and protein were induced in the hippocampus and caudate-putamen (CPu), accompanied by increased caspase-3-like protease activity. In the hippocampus, caspase-3 mRNA and protein were predominantly increased in degenerating CA1 pyramidal neurons. Proteolytic activation of the caspase-3 precursor was detected in hippocampus and CPu but not in cortex at 4-72 hr after ischemia. Double-label experiments detected DNA fragmentation in the majority of CA1 neurons and selective CPu neurons that overexpressed caspase-3. Furthermore, ventricular infusion of Z-DEVD-FMK, a caspase-3 inhibitor, decreased caspase-3 activity in the hippocampus and significantly reduced cell death and DNA fragmentation in the CA1 sector up to 7 d after ischemia. These data strongly suggest that caspase-3 activity contributes to delayed neuronal death after transient ischemia.

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