BAX and BCL-2 Expression and tunnel labeling in lumbar enlargement of neonatal rats after sciatic axotomy and melatonin treatment

Peripheral axotomy in neonatal rats induces neuronal death. We studied the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 and cell death promoter Bax in spinal cord of neonatal rats after sciatic transection and treatment with melatonin, a neuroprotective substance. Pups were unilaterally axotomized at P2 and received melatonin (1 mg/kg; sc) or vehicle 1 h prior to lesion, immediately after, at 1 h, 2 h and then once daily. Rats were sacrificed at 3 h, 6 h, 24 h, 72 h and 5 days postaxotomy. Intact animals were used as controls. Lumbar enlargement was processed for Nissl staining, immunohistochemistry and RT-PCR for Bax or Bcl-2 and TUNEL reaction. Motoneurons (MN) of lesioned (L) and normal (N) sides were counted, and MN survival ratio (MSR=L/N) was calculated. Bax and Bcl-2 showed cytoplasmic immunoreactivity (IR). Bax IR was noticeable in small cells but less evident in MN. In unlesioned pups, some Bax-positive small cells (B+) and TUNEL-positive nuclei (T+) were mainly seen in the dorsal horn. In lesioned animals given vehicle, Bax mRNA levels and numbers of B+ and T+ were increased in comparison with intact controls at 24 h postaxotomy. The basal IR for Bax in MN was not changed by axotomy. Bcl-2 IR was noted in all cells and, like Bcl-2 mRNA, was unaltered after lesion. Melatonin reduced MN loss at 24 h, 72 h and 5 days and T+ at 24 h after lesion but did not interfere with Bax or Bcl-2 expression. These results suggest that (1) sciatic transection at P2 increases Bax mRNA and the amount of B+ and T+ in the lumbar enlargement, (2) Bax IR in immature MN is not altered by axotomy and (3) melatonin protects MN and dorsal horn cells through a mechanism independent of Bax and Bcl-2.

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