Altered calcium signaling and neuronal injury: Stroke and Alzheimer's disease as examples

M. P. Mattson, R. E. Rydel, I. Lieberburg, V. L. Smith-Swintosky

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111 Scopus citations


Several cellular signaling systems have been implicated in the neuronal death that occurs both in development ('natural' cell death) or in pathological conditions such as stroke and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Here we consider the possibility that neuronal degeneration in an array of disorders including stroke and AD arises from one or more alterations in calcium-regulating systems that result in a loss of cellular calcium homeostasis. A long-standing hypothesis of neuronal injury, the excitatory amino acid (EAA) hypothesis, is revisited in light of new supportive data concerning the roles of EAAs in stroke and the neurofibrillary degeneration in AD. Two quite Dew concepts concerning mechanisms of neuronal injury and death are presented, namely: 1) growth factors normally 'stabilize' intracellular free calcium levels ([Ca2+](i)) and protect neurons against ischemic/excitotoxic injury, and 2) aberrant processing of β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) can cause neurodegeneration by impairing a neuroprotective function of secreted forms of APP (APP(s)) which normally regulate [Ca2+](i). Altered APP processing also results in the accumulation of β-amyloid peptide which contributes to neuronal damage by destabilizing calcium homeostasis, in AD β-amyloid peptide may render neurons vulnerable to excitotoxic conditions that accrue with increasing age (e.g., altered glucose metabolism, ischemia). Growth factors may normally protect neurons against the potentially damaging effects of calcium influx resulting from energy deprivation and overexcitation. For example, bFGF, NGF and IGFs can protect neurons from several brain regions against excitotoxic/ischemic insults. Growth factors apparently stabilize [Ca2+](i) by several means including a reduction in calcium influx, enhanced calcium extrusion or buffering, and maintenance or improvement of mitochondrial function. For example, bFGF can suppress the expression of a N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor protein that mediates excitotoxic damage in hippocampal neurons. Growth factors may also prevent the loss of neuronal calcium homeostasis and the increased vulnerability to neuronal injury caused by β-amyloid peptide. Since elevated [Ca2+](i) can elicit cytoskeletal alterations similar to those seen in AD neurofibrillary tangles, we propose that neuronal damage in AD results from a loss of calcium homeostasis. The data indicate that a variety of alterations in [Ca2+](i) regulation may contribute to the neuronal damage in stroke and AD, and suggest possible means of preventing neuronal damage in these disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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