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Activation of Neuronal NMDA Receptors Induces Superoxide-Mediated Oxidative Stress in Neighboring Neurons and Astrocytes


Excitotoxic neuronal death is mediated in part by NMDA receptor-induced activation of NOX2, an enzyme that produces superoxide and resultant oxidative stress. It is not known, however, whether the superoxide is generated in the intracellular space, producing oxidative stress in the neurons responding to NMDA receptor activation, or in the extracellular space, producing oxidative stress in neighboring cells. We evaluated these alternatives by preparing cortical neuron cultures from p47(phox-/-) mice, which are unable to form a functional NOX2 complex, and transfecting the cultures at low density with GFP-tagged p47(phox) to reconstitute NOX2 activity in widely scattered neurons. NMDA exposure did not induce oxidative stress or cell death in the nontransfected, p47-phox(-/-) cultures, but did produce oxidative stress and neuronal death in neurons surrounding the transfected, NOX2-competent neurons. This cell-to-cell spread of NMDA-induced oxidative injury was blocked by coincubation with either superoxide dismutase or the anion channel blocker 4'-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2'-disulphonate, confirming superoxide anion as the mediating oxidant. In neurons plated on a preexisting astrocyte layer, NMDA induced oxidative stress in both the neurons and the astrocytes, and this was also prevented by superoxide dismutase. These findings show that activation of NMDA receptors on one neuron can lead to oxidative stress and cell death in neighboring neurons and astrocytes by a process involving the extracellular release of superoxide by NOX2.

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