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Abstract

A short period of ischemia and reperfusion, called ischemic preconditioning, protects various tissues against subsequent sustained ischemic insults. We previously showed that apoptosis of hepatocytes and sinusoidal endothelial cells is a critical mechanism of injury in the ischemic liver. Because caspases, calpains, and Bcl-2 have a pivotal role in the regulation of apoptosis, we hypothesized that ischemic preconditioning protects by inhibition of apoptosis through down-regulation of caspase and calpain activities and up-regulation of Bcl-2. A preconditioning period of 10 minutes of ischemia followed by 15 minutes of reperfusion maximally protected livers subjected to prolonged ischemia. After reperfusion, serum aspartate transaminase (AST) levels were reduced up to 3-fold in preconditioned animals. All animals subjected to 75 minutes of ischemia died, whereas all those who received ischemic preconditioning survived. Apoptosis of hepatocytes and sinusoidal endothelial cells, assessed by in situ TUNEL assay and DNA fragmentation by gel electrophoresis, was dramatically reduced with preconditioning. Caspase activity, measured by poly (adenosine diphosphate ribose) polymerase (PARP) proteolysis and a specific caspase-3 fluorometric assay, was inhibited by ischemic preconditioning. The antiapoptotic mechanism did not involve calpain-like activity or Bcl-2 expression because levels were similar in control and preconditioned livers. In conclusion, ischemic preconditioning confers dramatic protection against prolonged ischemia via inhibition of apoptosis through down-regulation of caspase 3 activity, independent of calpain-like activity or Bcl-2 expression.