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Keywords:

  • Alzheimer's disease;
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis;
  • apoptosis;
  • NMDA receptor;
  • Parkinson's disease;
  • synucleins

Abstract

A long-term cell culture system was used to study maturation, aging, and death of cortical neurons. Mouse cortical neurons were maintained in culture in serum-free medium (Neurobasal supplemented with B27) for 60 days in vitro (DIV). The levels of several proteins were evaluated by immunoblotting to demonstrate that these neurons matured by developing dendrites and synapses and remained continuously healthy for 60 DIV. During their maturation, cortical neurons showed increased or stable protein expression of glycolytic enzyme, synaptophysin, synapsin IIa, α and β synucleins, and glutamate receptors. Synaptogenesis was prominent during the first 15 days and then synaptic markers remained stable through DIV60. Very early during dendritic development at DIV3, β-synuclein (but not α-synuclein) was localized at the base of dendritic growth cones identified by MAP2 and α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole (AMPA) receptor GluR1. In mature neurons, α and β synucleins colocalized in presynaptic axon terminals. Expression of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and AMPA receptors preceded the formation of synapses. Glutamate receptors continued to be expressed strongly through DIV60. Cortical neurons aging in vitro displayed a complex profile of protein damage as identified by protein nitration. During cortical neuron aging, some proteins showed increased nitration, while other proteins showed decreased nitration. After exposure to DNA damaging agent, young (DIV5) and old (DIV60) cortical neurons activated apoptosis mechanisms, including caspase-3 cleavage and poly(ADP)-ribose polymerase inactivation. We show that cultured mouse cortical neurons can be maintained for long term. Cortical neurons display compartmental changes in the localization of synucleins during maturation in vitro. These neurons sustain protein nitration during aging and exhibit age-related variations in the biochemistry of neuronal apoptosis. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 51: 9–23, 2002