Background: Activation of NADPH oxidase (PHOX) plays a critical role in mediating dopaminergic neuroinflammation. In the present study, we investigated the role of PHOX in methamphetamine (MA)-induced neurotoxic and inflammatory changes in mice. Methods: We examined changes in mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), mitochondrial function [i.e., mitochondrial membrane potential, intramitochondrial Ca2+ accumulation, mitochondrial oxidative burdens, mitochondrial superoxide dismutase expression, and mitochondrial translocation of the cleaved form of protein kinase C delta type (cleaved PKCδ)], microglial activity, and pro-apoptotic changes [i.e., cytosolic cytochrome c release, cleaved caspase 3, and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUDP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) positive populations] after a neurotoxic dose of MA in the striatum of mice to achieve a better understanding of the effects of apocynin, a non-specific PHOX inhibitor, or genetic inhibition of p47phox (by using p47phox knockout mice or p47phox antisense oligonucleotide) against MA-induced dopaminergic neurotoxicity. Results: Phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2) was most pronounced out of MAPKs after MA. We observed MA-induced phosphorylation and membrane translocation of p47phox in the striatum of mice. The activation of p47phox promoted mitochondrial stresses followed by microglial activation into the M1 phenotype, and pro-apoptotic changes, and led to dopaminergic impairments. ERK activated these signaling pathways. Apocynin or genetic inhibition of p47phox significantly protected these signaling processes induced by MA. ERK inhibitor U0126 did not exhibit any additional positive effects against protective activity mediated by apocynin or p47phox genetic inhibition, suggesting that ERK regulates p47phox activation, and ERK constitutes the crucial target for apocynin-mediated inhibition of PHOX activation. Conclusions: Our results indicate that the neuroprotective mechanism of apocynin against MA insult is via preventing mitochondrial burdens, microglial activation, and pro-apoptotic signaling process by the ERK-dependent activation of p47phox.
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