Cerebellar granule neurons grown in high potassium undergo rapid apoptosis when switched to medium containing 5 mM potassium, a stimulus mimicking deafferentation. This cell death can be blocked by genetic deletion of Bax, a member of the pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family, cycloheximide an inhibitor of macromolecular synthesis or expression of dominant-negative c-jun. These observations suggest that Bax activation is the result of c-jun target gene(s) up-regulation following trophic withdrawal. Candidate genes include the BH3-only Bcl-2 family members Dp5 and Bim. The molecular mechanisms underlying granule cell neuronal apoptosis in response to low potassium were investigated using CEP-1347 (KT7515), an inhibitor of the MLK family of JNKKK. CEP-1347 provided protection of potassium-serum-deprived granule cells, but such neuroprotection was not long term. The incomplete protection was not due to incomplete blockade of the JNK signaling pathway because c-jun phosphorylation as well as induction of c-jun RNA and protein were completely blocked by CEP-1347. Following potassium-serum deprivation the JNKK MKK4 becomes phosphorylated, an event blocked by CEP-1347. Cells that die in the presence of CEP-1347 activate caspases; and dual inhibition of caspases and MLKs has additive, not synergistic, effects on survival. A lack of synergism was also seen with the p38 inhibitor SB203580, indicating that the neuroprotective effect of the JNK pathway inhibitor cannot be explained by p38 activation. Activation of the JNK signaling pathway seems to be a key event in granule cell apoptosis, but these neurons cannot survive long term in the absence of sustained Pl3 kinase signaling.
- Cerebellar granule neuron
- Mixed lineage kinase (MLK)
- Neuronal apoptosis
- c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling