Recent studies have shown that deficient functioning of glutamate transporters (GTs) in Alzheimer disease (AD) might lead to neurodegeneration via excitotoxicity; however, the characteristics of cell death and pathways involved are not yet clear. The main objective of the present study was to determine if deficient GT functioning in AD could be associated with cell damage and caspase activation. For this purpose, we analyzed the levels of caspase-1 and 3 immunoreactivity in AD and control brains and correlated this data with the numbers of cells displaying DNA fragmentation, GT activity, and amyloid precursor protein (APP) mRNA expression. Compared to controls, AD cases showed extensive positive labeling of neurons and glial cells with an assay for DNA fragmentation suggestive of cell damage, as well as increased neuronal caspase-3 and Bcl-2 immunoreactivity. Linear regression analysis showed a strong negative correlation between GT activity and apoptosis, and between deficient GT functioning and caspase-3 immunoreactivity. Neurons displaying DNA fragmentation presented more intense caspase-3 immunoreactivity than intact neurons. In addition, the altered ratio between the spliced forms of APP correlated with DNA fragmentation and caspase-3 immunolabeling. Taken together, these results support the possibility that excitotoxic injury associated with deficient GT functioning and an imbalance in ratio of spliced APP forms might lead to cell death via caspase-3 activation.

Author notes

This work was supported by NIH/NIA Grants AG 10689, AG05131 and by Grants from the Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders Association, Inc., and the American Federation for Aging Research.