Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Neuroscience and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Glutamate-induced apoptosis in primary cortical neurons is inhibited by equine estrogens via down-regulation of caspase-3 and prevention of mitochondrial cytochrome c release

YueMei Zhang13 and Bhagu R Bhavnani123*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

2 Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Neuroscience 2005, 6:13  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-6-13

Published: 24 February 2005

Abstract

Background

Apoptosis plays a key role in cell death observed in neurodegenerative diseases marked by a progressive loss of neurons as seen in Alzheimer's disease. Although the exact cause of apoptosis is not known, a number of factors such as free radicals, insufficient levels of nerve growth factors and excessive levels of glutamate have been implicated. We and others, have previously reported that in a stable HT22 neuronal cell line, glutamate induces apoptosis as indicated by DNA fragmentation and up- and down-regulation of Bax (pro-apoptotic), and Bcl-2 (anti-apoptotic) genes respectively. Furthermore, these changes were reversed/inhibited by estrogens. Several lines of evidence also indicate that a family of cysteine proteases (caspases) appear to play a critical role in neuronal apoptosis. The purpose of the present study is to determine in primary cultures of cortical cells, if glutamate-induced neuronal apoptosis and its inhibition by estrogens involve changes in caspase-3 protease and whether this process is mediated by Fas receptor and/or mitochondrial signal transduction pathways involving release of cytochrome c.

Results

In primary cultures of rat cortical cells, glutamate induced apoptosis that was associated with enhanced DNA fragmentation, morphological changes, and up-regulation of pro-caspase-3. Exposure of cortical cells to glutamate resulted in a time-dependent cell death and an increase in caspase-3 protein levels. Although the increase in caspase-3 levels was evident after 3 h, cell death was only significantly increased after 6 h. Treatment of cells for 6 h with 1 to 20 mM glutamate resulted in a 35 to 45% cell death that was associated with a 45 to 65% increase in the expression of caspase-3 protein. Pretreatment with caspase-3-protease inhibitor z-DEVD or pan-caspase inhibitor z-VAD significantly decreased glutamate-induced cell death of cortical cells. Exposure of cells to glutamate for 6 h in the presence or absence of 17β-estradiol or Δ8, 17β-estradiol (10 nM-10 μM) resulted in the prevention of cell death and was associated with a significant dose-dependent decrease in caspase-3 protein levels, with Δ8, 17β-E2 being more potent than 17β-E2. Protein levels of Fas receptor remained unchanged in the presence of glutamate. In contrast, treatment with glutamate induced, in a time-dependent manner, the release of cytochrome c into the cytosol. Cytosolic cytochrome c increased as early as 1.5 h after glutamate treatment and these levels were 5 fold higher after 6 h, compared to levels in the untreated cells. Concomitant with these changes, the levels of cytochrome c in mitochondria decreased significantly. Both 17β-E2 and Δ8, 17β-E2 reduced the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria into the cytosol and this decrease in cytosolic cytochrome c was associated with inhibition of glutamate-induced cell death.

Conclusion

In the primary cortical cells, glutamate-induced apoptosis is accompanied by up-regulation of caspase-3 and its activity is blocked by caspase protease inhibitors. These effects of glutamate on caspase-3 appear to be independent of changes in Fas receptor, but are associated with the rapid release of mitochondrial cytochrome c, which precedes changes in caspase-3 protein levels leading to apoptotic cell death. This process was differentially inhibited by estrogens with the novel equine estrogen Δ8, 17β-E2 being more potent than 17β-E2. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that equine estrogens can prevent glutamate-induced translocation of cytochrome c from mitochondria to cytosol in rat primary cortical cells.