Recent studies have focused on a distinctive contrast between bioactivities of precursor brain-derived neurotrophic factor (proBDNF) and mature BDNF (matBDNF). In this study, using a proteolytic cleavage-resistant proBDNF mutant (CR-proBDNF), signaling mechanisms underlying the proapoptotic effect of proBDNF and antiapoptotic effect of matBDNF on the low potassium (LK)-inducing cell death of cultured cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs) were analyzed. A time course study demonstrated that unlike matBDNF, CR-proBDNF failed to induce TrkB phosphorylation for up to 360min. CR-proBDNF did not activate ERK-1, ERK-2 and Akt, which are involved in TrkB-induced cell survival signaling, while matBDNF activated these kinases. On the other hand treatment of CGNs with CR-proBDNF led to a rapid activation of Rac-GTPase and phosphorylation of JNK which are involved in p75NTR-induced apoptosis. In addition, a JNK-specific inhibitor, SP600125, inhibited the CR-proBDNF-induced apoptosis but did not affect the antiapoptotic effect of matBDNF. CR-proBDNF treatment led to an earlier appearance of active caspase-3. In contrast, matBDNF dramatically postponed the appearance of active caspase-3. Not like other signaling molecules, activation of caspase-3 was conversely regulated by both CR-proBDNF and matBDNF. These results thus suggest that in CGNs proBDNF elicits apoptosis via activation of p75NTR, Rac-GTPase, JNK, and caspase-3, while matBDNF signals cell survival via activation of TrkB, ERKs and Akt, and deactivation of caspase-3.
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