Apoptosis in substantia nigra following developmental hypoxic-ischemic injury

Neuroscience. 1995 Dec;69(3):893-901. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(95)00282-n.


We have previously observed that either hypoxic-ischemic or excitotoxic striatal injury during development is associated with a reduction in the adult number of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. This decrease occurs in the presence of preserved striatal dopaminergic markers and in the absence of direct nigral injury. We have also observed that natural cell death, with the morphology of apoptosis, occurs in the substantia nigra, and that there is an induced apoptotic cell death event following early striatal excitotoxic injury. We now report that forebrain hypoxic-ischemic injury is also associated with an induced cell death event in the substantia nigra, with both morphological and histochemical features of apoptosis. Induced apoptotic cell death occurs in immunohistochemically defined dopaminergic neurons. While the mechanisms for this induced cell death are not yet known, in the case of the pars compacta it may be related to the loss of normal striatal target-derived developmental support. Since dopaminergic neurons are postmitotic at the time of the injury, we conclude that this induced cell death is responsible for the diminished adult number of dopaminergic neurons. We also conclude that hypoxic-ischemic injury to the developing brain in general causes not only direct, necrotic injury to vulnerable regions, but also induced apoptotic death at remote sites. The significance of this finding is that apoptosis is a distinct death mechanism, with unique regulatory pathways, which can potentially be modified by approaches different from those which might influence cell death in regions of direct injury. In view of the present finding that apoptosis can occur in the setting of hypoxic-ischemic injury, and our previous work demonstrating its occurrence following excitotoxic injury, it seems likely that it may occur following other forms of injury to the immature brain in which excitotoxic injury plays a role, such as seizures, head trauma and hypoglycemia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Apoptosis*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / pathology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ischemia / pathology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Prosencephalon / blood supply*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine