Minocycline, a tetracycline derivative with pleiotropic biological effects, exhibits anti-inflammatory properties in several models of CNS disease. In addition to reducing production of inflammatory mediators, it has been postulated that minocycline might also be directly neuroprotective under these circumstances. Therefore, we investigated the effect of minocycline on primary cortical neuronal cultures exposed to a nitric oxide (NO)-donor. Cultures were assessed for neuronal survival, axon survival and markers of intracellular signaling pathways. The NO donor significantly increased neuronal death and minocycline was protective under these conditions. Furthermore NO-induced reductions in axonal length were significantly attenuated by minocycline. Improvements in axonal length were dependent on mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase)/extracellular signal-related kinase (Erk) signaling, whereas phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-kinase)/Akt signaling was important in neuronal survival. Further investigation into MAP kinase signaling pathways revealed inhibition of p38 MAP kinase and c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling by minocycline. JNK pathways were activated by trophic factor-withdrawal and minocycline attenuated neuronal death induced by trophic withdrawal. These results indicate that, in addition to anti-inflammatory properties, minocycline has direct protective effects on neurons and provides further evidence for its use in disorders of the CNS.
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