Aims: B-cell lymphoma-extra large (Bcl-xL) protects survival in dividing cells and developing neurons, but was not known to regulate growth. Growth and synapse formation are indispensable for neuronal survival in development, inextricably linking these processes. We have previously shown that, during synaptic plasticity, Bcl-xL produces changes in synapse number, size, activity, and mitochondrial metabolism. In this study, we determine whether Bcl-xL is required for healthy neurite outgrowth and whether neurite outgrowth is necessary for survival in developing neurons in the presence or absence of stress.
Results: Depletion of endogenous Bcl-xL impairs neurite outgrowth in hippocampal neurons followed by delayed cell death which is dependent on upregulation of death receptor 6 (DR6), a molecule that regulates axonal pruning. Under hypoxic conditions, Bcl-xL-depleted neurons demonstrate increased vulnerability to neuronal process loss and to death compared with hypoxic controls. Endogenous DR6 expression and upregulation during hypoxia are associated with worsened neurite damage; depletion of DR6 partially rescues neuronal process loss, placing DR6 downstream of the effects of Bcl-xL on neuronal process outgrowth and protection. In vivo ischemia produces early increases in DR6, suggesting a role for DR6 in brain injury.
Innovation: We suggest that DR6 levels are usually suppressed by Bcl-xL; Bcl-xL depletion leads to upregulation of DR6, failure of neuronal outgrowth in nonstressed cells, and exacerbation of hypoxia-induced neuronal injury.
Conclusion: Bcl-xL regulates neuronal outgrowth during development and protects neurites from hypoxic insult, as opposed by DR6. Factors that enhance neurite formation may protect neurons against hypoxic injury or neurodegenerative stimuli.