Expression of Dickkopf-1 (Dkk-1), a secreted protein that negatively modulates the Wnt pathway, was induced in the hippocampus of gerbils and rats subjected to transient global cerebral ischemia as well as in cultured cortical neurons challenged with an excitotoxic pulse. In ischemic animals, the temporal and regional pattern of Dkk-1 expression correlated with the profile of neuronal death, as assessed by Nissl staining and Dkk-1 immunostaining in adjacent hippocampal sections. Treatment of ischemic animals with either Dkk-1 antisense oligonucleotides or lithium ions (which rescue the Wnt pathway acting downstream of the Dkk-1 blockade) protected vulnerable hippocampal neurons against ischemic damage. The same treatments protected cultured cortical neurons against NMDA toxicity. We conclude that induction of Dkk-1 with the ensuing inhibition of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway is required for the development of ischemic and excitotoxic neuronal death.
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