• Akt;
  • apoptosis;
  • cGMP;
  • GSK-3;
  • l-NAME;
  • nitric oxide


Apoptotic death results from disrupting the balance between anti-apoptotic and pro-apoptotic cellular signals. The inter- and intracellular messenger nitric oxide is known to mediate either death or survival of neurones. In the present work, cerebellar granule cells were used as a model to assess the survival role of nitric oxide and to find novel signal transduction pathways related to this role. It is reported that sustained inhibition of nitric oxide production induces apoptosis in differentiated cerebellar granule neurones and that compounds that slowly release nitric oxide significantly revert this effect. Neuronal death was also reverted by a caspase-3-like inhibitor and by a cyclic GMP analogue, thus suggesting that nitric oxide-induced activation of guanylate cyclase is essential for the survival of these neurones. We also report that the Akt/GSK-3 kinase system is a transduction pathway related to the survival action of nitric oxide, as apoptosis caused by nitric oxide deprivation is accompanied by down-regulation of this, but not of other, kinase systems. Conversely, treatments able to rescue neurones from apoptosis also counteracted this down-regulation. Furthermore, in transfection experiments, overexpression of the Akt gene significantly decreased nitric oxide deprivation-related apoptosis. These results are the first evidence for a mechanism where endogenous nitric oxide promotes neuronal survival via Akt/GSK-3 pathway.