We found that primary cultures of rat cerebellar granule cells, although definitely postmitotic and terminally differentiated, express the tumour-suppressor phosphoprotein p53. In particular, granule cells both expressed significant levels of p53 mRNA and positively reacted to an anti-p53 antibody, from the first day of culturing. During neurone differentiation, p53 mRNA content did not significantly change, at least up to 12 days in vitro, while p53 immunoreactivity increased gradually. p53 expression appeared to be further modulable being upregulated after stimulation of glutamate ionotropic receptors by glutamate or kainate. Although qualitatively similar, p53 induction by glutamate and kainate differed in terms of intensity and time-course. The glutamate increase of p53 immunoreactivity appeared within 30 min after the treatment and lasted for at least 2 h. Kainate-induced increase of p53 immunoreactivity was delayed, becoming apparent within 2 h and lasting for at least 8 h. Both kainate- and glutamate-induced increases of p53 immunoreactivity were prevented by the non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist MK 801. As shown by the electrophoretic mobility shift analysis, both glutamate and kainate induced increases of p53 DNA binding activity. Blockade of p53 induction by a specific p53 antisense oligonucleotide resulted in a partial reduction of excitotoxicity with a complete inhibition of the excitatory amino acids induced apoptosis.
Our data suggest that stimulation of ionotropic glutamate receptors in neurones results in a p53-dependent apoptosis.