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Neuronal death enhanced by N-methyl-d-aspartate antagonists

The National Academy of Sciences
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  • Biological Sciences
  • Medicine


Glutamate promotes neuronal survival during brain development and destroys neurons after injuries in the mature brain. Glutamate antagonists are in human clinical trials aiming to demonstrate limitation of neuronal injury after head trauma, which consists of both rapid and slowly progressing neurodegeneration. Furthermore, glutamate antagonists are considered for neuroprotection in chronic neurodegenerative disorders with slowly progressing cell death only. Therefore, humans suffering from Huntington's disease, characterized by slowly progressing neurodegeneration of the basal ganglia, are subjected to trials with glutamate antagonists. Here we demonstrate that progressive neurodegeneration in the basal ganglia induced by the mitochondrial toxin 3-nitropropionate or in the hippocampus by traumatic brain injury is enhanced by N-methyl-d-aspartate antagonists but ameliorated by α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate antagonists. These observations reveal that N-methyl-d-aspartate antagonists may increase neurodestruction in mature brain undergoing slowly progressing neurodegeneration, whereas blockade of the action of glutamate at α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate receptors may be neuroprotective.

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