Recent studies have shown that hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) promotes the survival of embryonic motor neurons. However, it remains unclear whether HGF has trophic effects on mature motor neurons. In the present study, we examined the effects of HGF on adult motoneurons using the hypoglossal nerve transection model. In adult rats, neurons in the hypoglossal nucleus show a dramatic loss of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) protein and mRNA after the axotomy. This reduction of ChAT was markedly prevented when HGF was administered continuously at the cut end of the nerve using an osmotic pump. The HGF receptor, c‐met, protein and mRNA, which were faintly expressed in hypoglossal neurons under normal conditions, gradually increased and reached maximal levels 2 weeks after the axotomy. Administration of HGF reduced this c‐met upregulation almost to normal levels. We also quantified HGF mRNA in the tongue and hypoglossal nucleus. The tongue contained abundant HGF mRNA, whereas the nucleus contained only low levels. Interestingly, the HGF mRNA level in the nucleus did not increase after the axotomy. These findings suggest that HGF is principally produced in the tongue and contributes to maintain ChAT expression in the nucleus. HGF produced in the hypoglossal nucleus alone after disconnection from the tongue may not be sufficient for the maintenance of the motor neuron function. Thus, exogenously applied HGF was effective to prevent the downregulation of ChAT activities. These findings provide a strong rationale for the potential clinical use of HGF for the treatment of motor neuron degenerative disease.
European Journal of Neuroscience – Wiley
Published: Nov 1, 1999
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