The AMPA receptor (AMPAR) subunit GluR2, which regulates excitotoxicity and the inflammatory cytokine tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) have both been implicated in motor neurone vulnerability in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/Motor Neurone Disease. TNF alpha has been reported to increase cell surface expression of AMPAR subunits to increase synaptic strength and enhance excitotoxicity, but whether this mechanism occurs in motor neurones is unknown. We used primary cultures of mouse motor neurones and cortical neurones to examine the interaction between TNF alpha receptor activation, GluR2 availability, AMPAR-mediated calcium entry and susceptibility to excitotoxicity. Short exposure to a physiologically relevant concentration of TNFalpha (10 ng/ml, 15 min) caused a marked redistribution of both GluR1 and GluR2 to the cell surface as determined by cell surface biotinylation and immunofluorescence. Using Fura-2 AM microfluorimetry we showed that exposure to TNFalpha caused a rapid reduction in the peak amplitude of AMPA-mediated calcium entry in a PI3-kinase and p38 kinase-dependent manner, consistent with increased insertion of GluR2-containing AMPAR into the plasma membrane. This resulted in a protection of motor neurones against kainate-induced cell death. Our data therefore, suggests that TNF alpha acts primarily as a physiological regulator of synaptic activity in motor neurones rather than a pathological drive in AL
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