Neuropathy-Induced Apoptosis: Protective Effect of Physostigmine

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Traumatic, infectious, metabolic, and chemical noxa to the nervous system are the etiology of a crippling disease generally termedneuropathy. Motor disorders, altered sensibility, and pain are the pathognomonic traits. Cellular alterations induced by this chronic pathology include mitochondrial dysfunctions that lead to the activation of the apoptotic cascade. Energy imbalance can compromise the maintenance of mitochondrial membrane potential, furthering the release of cytochrome C and the subsequent cleavage and activation of caspases. Chronic constriction injury (CCI) of the rat sciatic nerve is a neuropathy model able to induce a strong mitochondrial impairment with a consequent apoptotic induction. In this model, the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor physostigmine is administered at 0.125 mg/kg i.p. (twice per day) starting from the operation and for 15 days after. The cholinergic activation reduces cytosolic levels of cytochrome C, suggesting an improved stability of the mitochondrial membrane, and the expression level of the active caspase 3 fragments (19, 16 kDa) is reduced significantly with respect to saline treatment. Accordingly, physostigmine impairs caspase 3 protease activity. In fact, the target of the activated caspase 3, the 89-kDa PARP fragment, is significantly less expressed in the ligated nerve of physostigmine-treated rats, reaching levels that are comparable to those in the contralateral unligated nerve. Finally, this natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitor reduces DNA fragmentation both in the proximal and in the distal parts of the nerve. This protection correlates with the induction of XIAP. Therefore, apoptosis, central to tissue degeneration, is prevented by repeated physostigmine treatment of CCI animals.

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