It is thought that the combination of extracellular glutamate accumulation and mitochondrial damage is involved in neuronal death associated with brain ischemia and hypoglycemia, and some neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease. However, the mechanism whereby those two factors interact together to trigger neurodegeneration in this and other neurodegenerative disorders is still elusive. Here, we have addressed this issue using a model of mild and sustained accumulation of extracellular glutamate in cerebellar cultured neurons, which are mostly glutamatergic and commonly used to study glutamate neurotoxicity. The resulting stimulation of glutamate receptors triggered a similar to 50% persistent increase in mitochondrial respiration that was associated with free radicals formation, and which was found to be necessary to prevent the collapse of the mitochondial membrane potential (Deltapsi(m)) and apoptotic cell death. In fact, hampering the glutamate-mediated increase in mitochondrial respiration with an inhibitor of the mitochondrial respiratory chain stopped neurons from producing free radicals, but led them to undergo rapid and profound Deltapsi(m) collapse and apoptotic cell death. Thus, we suggest that the formation of reactive oxygen species by glutamate receptor activation is the unavoidable consequence of an increase in the mitochondrial respiration aimed to prevent Deltapsi(m) collapse and neurodegeneration. These results may be relevant to understand the pathophysiology of those neurodegenerative diseases associated with both mitochondrial respiratory chain and glutamate transporter defects.
Última actualización: 16/07/2018