PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The protooncogene bcl-2 inhibits neuronal apoptosis during normal brain development as well as that induced by cytotoxic drugs or growth factor deprivation. We have previously demonstrated that neurons of mice deficient in Bcl-2 are more susceptible to neurotoxins and that the dopamine (DA) level in the striatum after systemic 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6 tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) administration was significantly lower than in wild-type mice, In the present study we have used transgenic mice overexpressing human Bcl-2 under the control of neuron-specific enolase promoter (NSE-hbcl-2) to test the effects of the neurotoxins 6-hydroxy-dopamine (6-OHDA) and MPTP on neuronal survival in these mice. Primary cultures of neocortical neurons from normal and transgenic mice were exposed to these dopaminergic neurotoxins, Addition of 6-OHDA resulted in cell death of essentially all neurons from normal mice. In contrast, in cultures generated from heterozygous NSE-hbcl-2 transgenic mice, only 69% of the cells died while those generated from homozygous transgenic mice were highly resistant and exhibited only 34% cell death. A similar effect was observed with neurons treated with MPP+. Moreover, while the striatal dopamine level after MPTP injections was reduced by 32% in the wild type, the concentration remained unchanged in the NSE-hbcl-2 heterozygous mice. In contrast levels of glutathione-related enzymes were unchanged. In conclusion, overexpression of Bcl-2 in the neurons provided protection, in a dose-dependent manner, against neurotoxins known to selectively damage dopaminergic neurons. This study provides ideas for inhibition of neuronal cell death in neurodegenerative diseases and for the development of efficient neuroprotective gene therapy.