A major transduction pathway for nitric oxide (NO) is stimulation of soluble guanylyl cyclase and the generation of cyclic GMP (cGMP). In the central nervous system, the NO–cGMP pathway has previously been associated primarily with synapses, particularly glutamatergic synapses. We report here that NO caused a large increase in the levels of cGMP in a central white matter tract devoid of synapses, namely in the rat isolated optic nerve. Cyclic GMP immunohistochemistry indicated that this response was confined to the axons. Accordingly, nerves previously subjected to 1 h of oxygen/glucose deprivation, which leads to irreversible axonal damage, displayed an 80% reduction in their subsequent capacity to generate cGMP in response to NO and a corresponding reduction in the numbers of cGMP‐immunostained axons. Protection of the axon cGMP response against this insult was achieved by omission of Ca2 + or Na + from the incubation medium, and by the pharmacological agents tetrodotoxin, lamotrigine, BW619C89 and BW1003C87, all of which protect axonal structure from oxygen/glucose deprivation‐induced damage. The results suggest that the NO–cGMP pathway has a hitherto unsuspected function in the optic nerve. Additionally, the expression of NO‐stimulated guanylyl cyclase in optic nerve axons provides a simple, sensitive and specific marker of their functional integrity that is likely to be valuable in investigating the mechanisms responsible for axon degeneration in ischaemia and other conditions.
European Journal of Neuroscience – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1999
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