Rapamycin suppresses axon sprouting by somatostatin interneurons in a mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy


Address correspondence to Paul Buckmaster, 300 Pasteur Drive, R321 Edwards Building, Department of Comparative Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, U.S.A. E-mail: psb@stanford.edu


Purpose: In temporal lobe epilepsy many somatostatin interneurons in the dentate gyrus die. However, some survive and sprout axon collaterals that form new synapses with granule cells. The functional consequences of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic synaptic reorganization are unclear. Development of new methods to suppress epilepsy-related interneuron axon sprouting might be useful experimentally.

Methods: Status epilepticus was induced by systemic pilocarpine treatment in green fluorescent protein (GFP)-expressing inhibitory nerurons (GIN) mice in which a subset of somatostatin interneurons expresses GFP. Beginning 24 h later, mice were treated with vehicle or rapamycin (3 mg/kg intraperitoneally) every day for 2 months. Stereologic methods were then used to estimate numbers of GFP-positive hilar neurons per dentate gyrus and total length of GFP-positive axon in the molecular layer plus granule cell layer. GFP-positive axon density was calculated. The number of GFP-positive axon crossings of the granule cell layer was measured. Regression analyses were performed to test for correlations between GFP-positive axon length versus number of granule cells and dentate gyrus volume.

Key Findings: After pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus, rapamycin- and vehicle-treated mice had approximately half as many GFP-positive hilar neurons as did control animals. Despite neuron loss, vehicle-treated mice had over twice the GFP-positive axon length per dentate gyrus as controls, consistent with GABAergic axon sprouting. In contrast, total GFP-positive axon length was similar in rapamycin-treated mice and controls. GFP-positive axon length correlated most closely with dentate gyrus volume.

Significance: These findings suggest that rapamycin suppressed axon sprouting by surviving somatostatin/GFP-positive interneurons after pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus in GIN mice. It is unclear whether the effect of rapamycin on axon length was on interneurons directly or secondary, for example, by suppressing growth of granule cell dendrites, which are synaptic targets of interneuron axons. The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway might be a useful drug target for influencing GABAergic synaptic reorganization after epileptogenic treatments, but additional side effects of rapamycin treatment must be considered carefully.