Excitotoxic Zn2+ and Ca2+ accumulation contributes to neuronal injury after ischemia or prolonged seizures. Synaptically released Zn2+ can enter postsynaptic neurons via routes including voltage sensitive Ca2+ channels (VSCC), and, more rapidly, through Ca2+ permeable AMPA channels. There are also intracellular Zn2+ binding proteins which can either buffer neuronal Zn2+ influx or release bound Zn2+ into the cytosol during pathologic conditions. Studies in culture highlight mitochondria as possible targets of Zn2+; cytosolic Zn2+ can enter mitochondria and induce effects including loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm), mitochondrial swelling, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. While brief (5min) neuronal depolarization (to activate VSCC) in the presence of 300μM Zn2+ causes substantial delayed neurodegeneration, it only mildly impacts acute mitochondrial function, raising questions as to contributions of Zn2+-induced mitochondrial dysfunction to neuronal injury.
Using brief high (90mM) K+/Zn2+ exposures to mimic neuronal depolarization and extracellular Zn2+ accumulation as may accompany ischemia in vivo, we examined effects of disrupted cytosolic Zn2+ buffering and/or the presence of Ca2+, and made several observations: 1. Mild disruption of cytosolic Zn2+ buffering—while having little effects alone—markedly enhanced mitochondrial Zn2+ accumulation and dysfunction (including loss of ΔΨm, ROS generation, swelling and respiratory inhibition) caused by relatively low (10–50μM) Zn2+ with high K+. 2. The presence of Ca2+ during the Zn2+ exposure decreased cytosolic and mitochondrial Zn2+ accumulation, but markedly exacerbated the consequent dysfunction. 3. Paralleling effects on mitochondria, disruption of buffering and presence of Ca2+ enhanced Zn2+-induced neurodegeneration. 4. Zn2+ chelation after the high K+/Zn2+ exposure attenuated both ROS production and neurodegeneration, supporting the potential utility of delayed interventions. Taken together, these data lend credence to the idea that in pathologic states that impair cytosolic Zn2+ buffering, slow uptake of Zn2+ along with Ca2+ into neurons via VSCC can disrupt the mitochondria and induce neurodegeneration.