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Keywords:

  • anoxia;
  • apoptosis;
  • cytochrome c;
  • mitochondrial membrane potential;
  • mitogen-activated protein kinase

Abstract

Erythropoietin (EPO) modulates primarily the proliferation of immature erythroid precursors, but little is known of the potential protective mechanisms of EPO in the central nervous system. We therefore examined the ability of EPO to modulate a series of death-related cellular pathways during anoxia and free radical induced neuronal degeneration. Neuronal injury was evaluated by trypan blue, DNA fragmentation, membrane phosphatidylserine exposure, protein kinase B phosphorylation, cysteine protease activity, mitochondrial membrane potential, and mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase phosphorylation. We demonstrate that constitutive neuronal EPO is insufficient to prevent cellular injury, but that signaling through the EPO receptor remains biologically responsive to exogenous EPO administration. Exogenous EPO is both necessary and sufficient to prevent acute genomic DNA destruction and subsequent phagocytosis through membrane PS exposure, because neuronal protection by EPO is completely abolished by co-treatment with an anti-EPO neutralizing antibody. Through pathways that involve the initial activation of protein kinase B, EPO maintains mitochondrial membrane potential. Subsequently, EPO inhibits caspase 8-, caspase 1-, and caspase 3-like activities linked to cytochrome c release through mechanisms that are independent from the MAP kinase systems of p38 and JNK. Elucidating some of the novel neuroprotective pathways employed by EPO may further the development of new therapeutic strategies for neurodegenerative disorders. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.