Statins are most commonly prescribed to reduce hypercholesterolemia; however, recent studies have shown that statins have additional benefits, including neuroprotection. Until now, the mechanism underlying statin-induced neuroprotection has been poorly understood. Recent in vivo studies from our lab reported the novel finding that simvastatin increased expression levels of a gene encoding for a major cell survival protein, bcl-2 [Johnson-Anuna et al., J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther.312 (2005) 786]. The purpose of the present experiments was to determine if simvastatin could protect neurons from excitotoxicity by altering Bcl-2 levels. Neurons were pre-treated with simvastatin and challenged with a compound known to reduce Bcl-2 levels and induce cell death. Simvastatin pre-treatment resulted in a significant reduction in cytotoxicity (lactate dehydrogenase release and caspase 3 activation) following challenge compared with unchallenged neurons. In addition, chronic simvastatin treatment significantly increased Bcl-2 mRNA and protein levels while challenge resulted in a significant reduction in Bcl-2 protein abundance. G3139, an antisense oligonucleotide directed against Bcl-2, abolished the protective effects of simvastatin and eliminated simvastatin-induced up-regulation of Bcl-2 protein. These findings suggest that neuroprotection by simvastatin is dependent on the drug's previously unexplored and important effect of up-regulating Bcl-2.
- Alzheimer's disease