Calcium-induced activation of the mitochondrial permeability transition in hippocampal neurons

Janet M Dubinsky, Yael Levi

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134 Scopus citations


The mitochondrial permeability transition (mPT) has been implicated in both excitotoxic and apoptotic neuronal cell death, despite the fact that it has not been previously identified in neurons. To study the mPT in hippocampal neurons, cultures were loaded with the mitochondrial dye JC-1 and observed with confocal and conventional microscopy. After pretreatment with 4Br-A23187 and subsequent calcium addition, the initially rodlike mitochondria increased in diameter until mitochondria became rounded in appearance. Morphological changes reversed when calcium was removed by EGTA. When neurons were loaded with both fura-2-AM and rhodamine 123, calcium loading produced an increase in cytosolic calcium, mitochondrial depolarization, and similar alterations in mitochondrial morphology. Smaller calcium challenges produced calcium cycling, delaying morphological changes until after secondary depolarization and calcium release to the cytosol. In neurons exposed to glutamate, confocal observation of JC-1 fluorescence revealed comparable changes in mitochondrial morphology that were prevented when barium was substituted for calcium, or following pretreatment with the mPT inhibitor, cyclosporin A. These experiments establish conditions in which the mPT could be observed in situ in neurons in response to calcium loading. In addition, the timing of changes suggested that induction of the permeability transition in situ represents a sequence of multiple events that may reflect the multiple open conformations of the mPT pore.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-741
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 15 1998


  • Apoptosis
  • Cyclosporin A
  • Excitotoxicity
  • Mitochondria
  • Permeability transition


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