The role of caspase-3 activation in phencyclidine-induced neuronal death in postnatal rats

Cheng Z. Wang, Kenneth M. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


This study determined the role of caspase-3 in phencyclidine (PCP)-induced neurodegeneration in postnatal rats. PCP administration to postnatal day 7 rats induced a dose-dependent increase in caspase-3 enzymatic activity in frontal cortex, striatum, and hippocampus. Enzymatic activation was present at 4 h, peaked between 6 and 12 h, and disappeared by 24 h. Further, cleaved caspase-3-immunoreactive neurons were detected as early as 2 h in the cortex, and were found throughout the brain, including, in addition, the thalamus and striatum. Within the cingulate, frontal, parietal, and retrosplenial cortices, immunoreactivity was specific for layers II-IV (especially layer II). Neurons positive for both silver staining and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase biotin-d-UTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) were found in the same brain regions and subregions. Double labeling experiments confirmed that cleaved caspase-3 and TUNEL were coexpressed in many neurons in all brain regions and subregions studied. Temporal studies revealed that procaspase-3 cleavage preceded TUNEL staining by about 3 h, with many neurons being positive for both caspase-3 and TUNEL 9 h after PCP treatment. In organotypic corticostriatal slices, PCP caused a concentration- and time-dependent cleavage of procaspase-3 that was also colocalized with TUNEL staining in layers II-IV of the parietal cortex. Caspase-3 activation again preceded PCP-induced DNA damage assessed by TUNEL. PCP-induced neuronal death in vitro as measured by TUNEL staining was blocked 85% by Ac-AAVALLPAVLLALLAPDEVD-CHO, a cell-permeable selective caspase-3 inhibitor. These data demonstrate that caspase-3 activation plays a necessary role in the regionally selective neuronal death induced by PCP in the developing rat brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1178-1194
Number of pages17
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 24 2007


  • Apoptosis
  • Caspase-3
  • Development
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Phencyclidine
  • Schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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