Mechanisms of cell death by deprivation of depolarizing conditions during cerebellar granule neurons maturation

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Cerebellar granule cells (CGC) cultured under 5mM KCl (K5) undergo apoptosis after 5 days in vitro (DIV). CGC death is reduced by chronic treatment with 25 mM KCl (K25) or NMDA. Also, when CGC cultured for 6–8 DIV in K25 are transferred to a K5 medium, cells die apoptotically. Moreover, Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL protect neurons from apoptosis, while Bax and Bcl-xS may act as proapototic proteins. It is suggested that these members of the Bcl-2 family may be involved in the cytochrome-c (cyt-c) release to the cytosol. Cytochrome-c is able to form a complex with other proteins to activate a cascade of proteases. In this work, we found that Bcl-2 levels in K5 cells did not show any change during 2–7 days in vitro (DIV); but cells grown with NMDA and K25 displayed an increase (55% approximately) of Bcl-2 from 4 DIV, as compared to control. Under these conditions, Bax levels showed a tendency to decrease with age under control cells and NMDA/K25 induced a reduction of approximately 10% in Bax levels from 4 DIV. On the other hand, in cells maintained in K25 during 7 DIV and then switched to a K5 medium, the levels of Bax showed a consistent decrease (30% after 8 h). Under these conditions, the Bcl-2 levels did not show any significant change after 24 h. Cytochrome-c levels were unaffected under K5, NMDA and K25 and only a marginal increase of cytochrome-c in the cytosol was detected at 6 h after switching. We also found that caspase-9 was only activated under K25-deprivation meanwhile caspase-3 was involved in both protocols. These results suggest that the Bcl-2 family members, caspases activation and cytochrome-c release are involved in CGC death induced by K5 and their participation in this process could be different depending on neuronal maturation in culture.

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