Tumor necrosis factor-α is thought to be one of the most important inflammatory cytokines associated with the demyelinating disease multiple sclerosis. We determined whether neurotrophins could protect oligodendrocytes from tumor necrosis factor-α-mediated cytotoxicity. Among the neurotrophins tested, nerve growth factor was most effective at preventing cell death. Nerve growth factor also prevented the tumor necrosis factor-induced loss of mitochondrial membrane potential. Overexpression of constitutively active Akt, a downstream target of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, but not of constitutively active MEK, protected oligodendrocytes from tumor necrosis factor-induced injury. Moreover, overexpression of dominant-negative Akt negated the protective effects of nerve growth factor on tumor necrosis factor-mediated oligodendrocyte cytotoxicity. These findings indicate that the Akt pathway is crucial in nerve growth factor-mediated oligodendrocyte protection.
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