Activation of the galanin receptor 2 (GalR2) protects the hippocampus from neuronal damage

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Expression of the neuropeptide galanin is up-regulated in many brain regions following nerve injury and in the basal forebrain of patients with Alzheimer's disease. We have previously demonstrated that galanin modulates hippocampal neuronal survival, although it was unclear which receptor subtype(s) mediates this effect. Here we report that the protective role played by galanin in hippocampal cultures is abolished in animals carrying a loss-of-function mutation in the second galanin receptor subtype (GalR2-MUT). Exogenous galanin stimulates the phosphorylation of the serine/threonine kinase Akt and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) in wild-type (WT) cultures by 435 ± 5% and 278 ± 2%, respectively. The glutamate-induced activation of Akt was abolished in cultures from galanin knockout animals, and was markedly attenuated in GalR2-MUT animals, compared with WT controls. In contrast, similar levels of glutamate-induced ERK activation were observed in both loss-of-function mutants, but were further increased in galanin over-expressing animals. Using specific inhibitors of either ERK or Akt confirms that a GalR2-dependent modulation in the activation of the Akt and ERK signalling pathways contributes to the protective effects of galanin. These findings imply that the rise in endogenous galanin observed either after brain injury or in various disease states is an adaptive response that reduces apoptosis by the activation of GalR2, and hence Akt and ERK.

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