Growth factors protect neurons against excitotoxic/ischemic damage by stabilizing calcium homeostasis

Mark P. Mattson, Bin Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


An aberrant elevation in intraneuronal calcium levels resulting from energy failure and excitatory amino acid receptor activation is believed to play a major role in the neuronal damage and death that occur in stroke. We have found that several growth factors can protect cultured rat hippocampal and septal neurons and human cortical neurons from excitotoxic damage caused by glucose deprivation or hypoxia. Using the calcium indicator dye fura 2 and whole-cell patch-clamp recording, we found that glucose deprivation initially results in calcium current inhibition and a reduction in intraneuronal free calcium levels without morphological signs of cell damage. After 12 to 16 hours of glucose deprivation, a large elevation in intraneuronal calcium levels occurred that involved N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation and mediated the cell damage and death. Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), nerve growth factor (NGF), and insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I and IGF-II) each prevented, in a dose-dependent manner, glucose deprivation-induced loss of calcium homeostasis and neuronal damage. The growth factors were effective to varying degrees when added up to 12 hours after the onset of glucose deprivation. NGF, bFGF, and IGFs also protected neurons against damage caused by exposure to a hypoxic environment. By stabilizing intraneuronal calcium levels within a window of concentrations conducive to neuronal survival, growth factors can protect neurons against the damaging effects of ischemia-like insults. Because ATP levels are expected to be reduced under ischemia-like conditions, we determined whether the growth factors would protect neurons against a more selective reduction in ATP levels. Basic FGF, IGFs, and NGF all significantly reduced neuronal damage caused by cyanide or 2,4-dinitrophenol. Our data demonstrate that bFGF, NGF, and IGFs can protect central nervous system neurons against ischemia-like insults and suggest that these growth factors could reduce brain damage in stroke. Understanding the mechanism or mechanisms of action of these growth factors may reveal molecular targets for the development of drugs useful in stroke.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)I-136-I-140
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Amino acids
  • Growth factors
  • Hippocampus
  • Hypoglycemia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing
  • Neuroscience(all)


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