Mild stress can protect against a larger insult, a phenomenon termed preconditioning or tolerance. To determine if a low intensity stressor could also protect cells against intense oxidative stress in a model of dopamine deficiency associated with Parkinson disease, we used methamphetamine to provide a mild, preconditioning stress, 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) as a source of potentially toxic oxidative stress, and MN9D cells as a model of dopamine neurons. We observed that prior exposure to subtoxic concentrations of methamphetamine protected these cells against 6-OHDA toxicity, whereas higher concentrations of methamphetamine exacerbated it. The protection by methamphetamine was accompanied by decreased uptake of both [ 3H] dopamine and 6-OHDA into the cells, which may have accounted for some of the apparent protection. However, a number of other effects of methamphetamine exposure suggest that the drug also affected basic cellular survival mechanisms. First, although methamphetamine preconditioning decreased basal pERK1/2 and pAkt levels, it enhanced the 6-OHDA-induced increase in these phosphokinases. Second, the apparent increase in pERK1/2 activity was accompanied by increased pMEK1/2 levels and decreased activity of protein phosphatase 2. Third, methamphetamine upregulated the pro-survival protein Bcl-2. Our results suggest that exposure to low concentrations of methamphetamine cause a number of changes in dopamine cells, some of which result in a decrease in their vulnerability to subsequent oxidative stress. These observations may provide insights into the development of new therapies for prevention or treatment of PD.
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