A single episode of ethanol intoxication triggers widespread apoptotic neurodegeneration in the infant rat or mouse brain. The cell death process occurs over a 6-16 h period following ethanol administration, is accompanied by a robust display of caspase-3 enzyme activation, and meets ultrastructural criteria for apoptosis. Two apoptotic pathways (intrinsic and extrinsic) have been described, either of which may culminate in the activation of caspase-3. The intrinsic pathway is regulated by Bax and Bcl-XL and involves Bax-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and release of cytochrome c as antecedent events leading to caspase-3 activation. Activation of caspase-8 is a key event preceding caspase-3 activation in the extrinsic pathway. In the present study, following ethanol administration to infant mice, we found no change in activated caspase-8, which suggests that the extrinsic pathway is not involved in ethanol-induced apoptosis. We also found that ethanol triggers robust caspase-3 activation and apoptotic neurodegeneration in C57BL/6 wildtype mice, but induces neither phenomenon in homozygous Bax-deficient mice. Therefore, it appears that ethanol-induced neuroapoptosis is an intrinsic pathway-mediated phenomenon involving Bax-induced disruption of mitochondrial membranes and cytochrome c release as early events leading to caspase-3 activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1148-1155
Number of pages8
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2003


  • Alcohol
  • Apoptosis
  • Bax knockout
  • Caspase-3
  • Neurons


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