AMPA protects cultured neurons against glutamate excitotoxicity through a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-dependent activation in extracellular signal-regulated kinase to upregulate BDNF gene expression


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Ann M.Marini, Department of Neurology and Neuroscience, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA. E-mail:


The signal transduction and molecular mechanisms underlying α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionate (AMPA)-mediated neuroprotection are unknown. In the present study, we determined a major AMPA receptor-mediated neuroprotective pathway. Exposure of cerebellar granule cells to AMPA (500 µm) + aniracetam (1 µm), a known blocker of AMPA receptor desensitization, evoked an accumulation of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) in the culture medium and enhanced TrkB-tyrosine phosphorylation following the release of BDNF. AMPA also activated the src-family tyrosine kinase, Lyn, and the downstream target of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K) pathway, Akt. Extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK), a component of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, was also activated. K252a, a selective inhibitor of neurotrophin signaling, blocked the AMPA-mediated neuroprotection. The involvement of BDNF release in protecting neurons by AMPA was confirmed using a BDNF-blocking antibody. AMPA-mediated neuroprotection is blocked by PP1, an inhibitor of src family kinases, LY294002, a PI3-K inhibitor, or U0126, a MAPK kinase (MEK) inhibitor. Neuroprotective concentrations of AMPA increased BDNF mRNA levels that was blocked by the AMPA receptor antagonist, 1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-6-nitro-2,3-dioxo-benzo[f]quinoxaline-7-sulfonamide (NBQX). The increase in BDNF gene expression appeared to be the downstream target of the PI3-K-dependent activation of the MAPK cascade since MEK or the PI3-K inhibitor blocked the AMPA receptor-mediated increase in BDNF mRNA. Thus, AMPA receptors protect neurons through a mechanism involving BDNF release, TrkB receptor activation, and a signaling pathway involving a PI3-K dependent activation of MAPK that increases BDNF expression.