In order to understand further the role of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proto-oncogene protein in excitotoxin-induced brain injury and possible interaction between Bcl-2 and the antioxidant melatonin, the expression of Bcl-2 in various brain parts was studied after intrastriatal injection of kainate (KA, 2.5 nmol) with or without co-treatment of melatonin (10 mg/kg, intraperitoneally (i.p.)). Three days after unilateral injection of KA to the striatum in the rat, a dramatic direct cytotoxic effect was observed, as indicated an expression of Bcl-2 immunoreactivity in TUNEL- and OX-42-positive cells in the KA-injected striatum and traumatized cortical region. A less severe detrimental effect was also observed in the ipsilateral substantia nigra and peritraumatic cortex, as reflected by an upregulation of Bcl-2-immunostained neurons. Surprisingly, a reduction in Bcl-2-immunoreactive neurons that was accompanied by a less severe loss of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive neurons in the nigrostriatal pathway was observed after co-treatment with melatonin. Western blot analysis confirmed that Bcl-2 expression is elevated in striatum and cortex on the lesioned side, and that its expression was attenuated substantially after systemic administration of melatonin. The results showing an upregulation of Bcl-2 in nigral neurons and reactive microglia after KA lesion are consistent with the view that Bcl-2 is protective in function in the central nervous system.
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