Adult motor neuron apoptosis is mediated by nitric oxide and Fas death receptor linked by DNA damage and p53 activation

Lee J. Martin, Kevin Chen, Zhiping Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


The mechanisms of injury- and disease-related degeneration of motor neurons (MNs) need clarification. Unilateral avulsion of the sciatic nerve in the mouse induces apoptosis of spinal MNs that is p53 and Bax dependent. We tested the hypothesis that MN apoptosis is Fas death receptor dependent and triggered by nitric oxide (NO)- and superoxide-mediated damage to DNA. MNs in mice lacking functional Fas receptor and Fas ligand were protected from apoptosis. Fas protein levels and cleaved caspase-8 increased in MNs after injury. Fas upregulation was p53 dependent. MNs in mice deficient in neuronal NO synthase (nNOS) and inducible NOS (iNOS) resisted apoptosis. After injury, MNs increased nNOS protein but decreased iNOS protein; however, iNOS contributed more than nNOS to basal and injury-induced levels of NADPH diaphorase activity in MNs. N7O and peroxynitrite (ONOO-) fluorescence increased in injured MNs, as did nitrotyrosine staining of MNs. DNA damage, assessed as 8-hydroxy-2- deoxyguanosine and single-stranded DNA, accumulated within injured MNs and was attenuated by nNOS and iNOS deficiency. nNOS deficiency increased DNA repair protein oxoguanine DNA-glycosylase, whereas iNOS deficiency blocked diaphorase activity. MN apoptosis was blocked by the antioxidant Trolox and by overexpression of wild-type human superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1). In contrast, injured MNs in mice harboring mutant human SOD1 had upregulated Fas and iNOS, escalated DNA damage, and accelerated and increased MN degeneration and underwent necrosis instead of apoptosis. Thus, adult spinal MN apoptosis is mediated by upstream NO and ONOO- genotoxicity and downstream p53 and Fas activation and is shifted to necrosis by mutant SOD1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6449-6459
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number27
StatePublished - Jul 6 2005


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Axotomy
  • Cell death
  • DNA damage
  • Mutant SOD1
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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