Background: Polyamines are synthesized and released in high concentrations during CNS development. These agents can potentiate N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) function and appear to play an important role in CNS development. Previous work has shown that polyamine release is increased during ethanol withdrawal (EWD). This likely promotes NMDAR overactivity and contributes to neurotoxicity during EWD, however, little is known regarding such effects in early neonatal brain. The present study compared the effects of EWD and polyamine exposure on toxicity in hippocampal slice cultures derived from postnatal day 2 (PND 2) or postnatal day 8 (PND 8) day-old rats. Due to changes in NMDAR subtypes and response to polyamines, we predicted that slices taken from PND 2 pups would be more sensitive to EWD and polyamine challenge.
Methods: Organotypic hippocampal slice cultures were obtained from neonatal rats either 2 or 8 days of age (PND 2 or PND 8). Five days after explantation, cultures were exposed to ETOH (50 mM- typically subthreshold for EWD induced cell death) for 10 days and then withdrawn from ETOH for 24-hour in the presence of 100 microM of the polyamine spermidine and/or 100 microM ifenprodil, an NMDAR antagonist that blocks the NMDAR that is the most sensitive to polyamine modulation. Cytotoxicity was measured after 24-hour by visualization of propidium iodide (PI) fluorescence.
Results: There were clear age and gender-dependent differences in response to EWD and to polyamines. EWD produced significant increases in PI uptake in all subregions (CA1, CA3 and DG) of cultures derived from PND 2 pups, but not PND 8 pups. Exposure of cultures to spermidine for 24-hour also produced significant increases in cytotoxicity in all 3 regions of PND 2 cultures with no gender differences. In contrast, there were both gender and region-specific differences in response to spermidine in cultures from PND 8. While the CA1 region of both sexes displayed increased cytotoxicity following spermidine exposure, only females showed increased cytotoxicity in the CA3 region while the DG appeared relatively insensitive to spermidine. Exposure to spermidine during EWD produced enhanced toxicity in all 3 hippocampal subregions in tissue from both PND 2 and PND 8 rats and this was reduced or prevented by co-exposure to ifenprodil. Of interest, the PND 2 hippocampus was significantly more sensitive than the PND 8 hippocampus to the toxic effects of EWD and to spermidine during EWD in the DG and CA3 regions.
Conclusions: Hippocampal slice cultures derived from PND 2 rats were more sensitive to the toxic effects of both EWD and EWD + spermidine exposure than were those derived from PND 8 rats. These findings are similar to recent behavioral data collected from our lab showing greater sensitivity to ETOH's behavioral teratogenic effects when ETOH exposure in vivo occurred during the first postnatal week relative to the second postnatal week. Ifenprodil's ability to block the toxic effects of spermidine during EWD suggests that excess activity of NR2B subunits of the NMDAR contributed to the excitatory and cytotoxic effects of EWD plus spermidine. While no sex differences in toxicity were observed in cultures taken from pups during the first postnatal week, these data do suggest that later in neonatal life (i.e., the second postnatal week), the female hippocampus may be more sensitive to polyamine-induced neurotoxicity than males.