Individuals with the neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) inherited cancer syndrome exhibit neuronal dysfunction that predominantly affects the CNS. In this report, we demonstrate a unique vulnerability of CNS neurons, but not peripheral nervous system (PNS) neurons, to reduced Nf1 gene expression. Unlike dorsal root ganglion neurons, Nf1 heterozygous (Nf1+/-) hippocampal and retinal ganglion cell (RGC) neurons have decreased growth cone areas and neurite lengths, and increased apoptosis compared to their wild-type counterparts. These abnormal Nf1+/- CNS neuronal phenotypes do not reflect Ras pathway hyperactivation, but rather result from impaired neurofibromin-mediated cAMP generation. In this regard, elevating cAMP levels with forskolin or rolipram treatment, but not MEK (MAP kinase kinase) or PI3-K (phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase) inhibition, reverses these abnormalities to wild-type levels in vitro. In addition, Nf1+/- CNS, but not PNS, neurons exhibit increased apoptosis in response to excitotoxic or oxidative stress in vitro. Since children with NF1-associated optic gliomas often develop visual loss and Nf1 genetically engineered mice with optic glioma exhibit RGC neuronal apoptosis in vivo, we further demonstrate that RGC apoptosis resulting from optic glioma in Nf1 genetically engineered mice is attenuated by rolipram treatment in vivo. Similar to optic glioma-induced RGC apoptosis, the increased RGC neuronal death in Nf1+/-mice after optic nerve crush injury is also attenuated by rolipram treatment in vivo. Together, these findings establish a distinctive role for neurofibromin in CNS neurons with respect to vulnerability to injury, define a CNS-specific neurofibromin intracellular signaling pathway responsible for neuronal survival, and lay the foundation for future neuroprotective glioma treatment approaches. Copyright

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5579-5589
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 21 2010


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