Background: A considerable proportion of all newly generated cells in the hippocampus will die before becoming fully differentiated, both under normal and pathological circumstances. The caspase-independent apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) has not been investigated previously in this context.
Results: Postnatal day 8 (P8) harlequin (Hq) mutant mice, expressing lower levels of AIF, and wild type littermates were injected with BrdU once daily for two days to label newborn cells. On P10 mice were subjected to hypoxia-ischemia (HI) and their brains were analyzed 4 h, 24 h or 4 weeks later. Overall tissue loss was 63.5% lower in Hq mice 4 weeks after HI. Short-term survival (4 h and 24 h) of labeled cells in the subgranular zone was neither affected by AIF downregulation, nor by HI. Long-term (4 weeks) survival of undifferentiated, BLBP-positive stem cells was reduced by half after HI, but this was not changed by AIF downregulation. Neurogenesis, however, as judged by BrdU/NeuN double labeling, was reduced by half after HI in wild type mice but preserved in Hq mice, indicating that primarily neural progenitors and neurons were protected. A wave of cell death started early after HI in the innermost layers of the granule cell layer (GCL) and moved outward, such that 24 h after HI dying cells could be detected in the entire GCL.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that AIF downregulation provides not only long-term overall neuroprotection after HI, but also protects neural progenitor cells, thereby rescuing hippocampal neurogenesis.