Mineralocorticoid Receptor Overexpression Facilitates Differentiation and Promotes Survival of Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Neurons

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Mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), highly expressed in the hippocampus, binds corticosteroid hormones and coordinately participates, with the glucocorticoid receptor, to the control of stress responses, memorization, and behavior. To investigate the impact of MR in neuronal survival, we generated murine embryonic stem (ES) cells that overexpress human MR (hMR) (P1-hMR) and are induced to differentiate into mature neurons. We showed that recombinant MR expression increased throughout differentiation and is 2-fold higher in P1-hMR ES-derived neurons compared with wild-type controls, whereas glucocorticoid receptor expression was unaffected. Although proliferation and early neuronal differentiation were comparable in P1-hMR and wild-type ES cells, MR overexpression was associated with higher late neuronal marker expression (microtubule-associated protein 2 and β-tubulin III). This was accompanied by a shift towards neuron survival with an increased ratio of anti- vs. proapoptotic molecules and 50% decreased caspase 3 activity. Knocking down MR overexpression by small interfering RNA drastically reversed neuroprotective effects with reduced Bcl2/Bax ratio and decreased microtubule-associated protein 2 expression. P1-hMR neurons were protected against oxidative stress-induced apoptosis through reduced caspase 3 activation and drastically increased Bcl2/Bax ratio and β-tubulin III expression. We demonstrated the involvement of MR in neuronal differentiation and survival and identify MR as an important neuroprotective mediator opening potential pharmacological strategies.

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