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Neuroscience. 1998 Oct;86(4):1133-44.

Ca(2+)-dependent mechanisms of cell injury in cultured cortical neurons.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of Rhode Island, Kingston 02881, USA.


The contributions of several Ca(2+)-dependent processes to neurotoxicity were examined in primary cultures of rat cortical neurons. The Ca2+ ionophore ionomycin induced a rapid loss of axonal morphology and concomitant release of inositol phosphates that preceded morphological alterations of neuronal cell bodies, choline and arachidonate release, and protein degradation. These events were followed by a degree of neuronal lysis proportional to the external Ca2+ concentration and exposure time. The phospholipase inhibitor neomycin decreased both arachidonate release and the phospholipid hydrolysis catalysed by phospholipases C and D. Proteolysis was abated by the protease inhibitor leupeptin, but not by lysosomal proteolysis inhibitors. Neuronal lysis was inhibited partially by either leupeptin or neomycin and almost completely by both in combination. However, neither agent, alone or in combination, affected the morphological derangements. The diacylglycerol lipase inhibitor RHC-80267 reduced arachidonate release, but not neuronal lysis. Phospholipase A2 inhibitors had no effect on either arachidonate release or lysis. Treatment of mixed cultures of neurons and glia with a Ca(2+)-dependent glutamate challenge caused similar morphological changes and a delayed neuronal lysis that was also diminished by leupeptin and neomycin, but not by inhibitors of lysosomal proteolysis. These data describe several distinct stages of Ca(2+)-dependent injury to cortical neurons, a key feature of which is the stimulation of protease, and phospholipase C and D activities. The initial stage is characterized by a rapid loss of axonal morphology and increased phosphatidylinositol hydrolysis. An intermediate stage involves changes in cell body morphology plus the degradation of neuronal protein and phosphatidylcholine. In a later stage, the loss of plasma membrane integrity denotes neuronal death.

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