Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

Dr. Severn B. Churn


Excitotoxic calcium influx and activation of calcium-regulated systems is a common event in several types of neuronal injury. This mechanism has been the focus of intense research, with the hope that a more complete understanding of how neuronal injury affects calcium-regulated systems will provide effective treatment options. This study examines one such calcium-stimulated enzyme, calcineurin, in the context of two common neurological pathologies, status epilepticus and traumatic brain injury.Status epilepticus was induced by pilocarpine injection. NMDA-dependent increases in calcineurin activity were observed in cortical and hippocampal homogenates. Upon closer examination, the most profound increases in activity were found to be present in crude synaptoplasmic membrane fractions isolated from cortex and hippocampus. A concurrent status epilepticus-induced increase in calcineurin concentration was observed in membrane fractions from cortex and hippocampus. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed an increase in calcineurin immunoreactivity in apical dendrites of hippocampal pyramidal neurons. We examined a cellular effect of increased dendritic calcineurin activity by characterizing a calcineurin-dependent loss of dendritic spines. Increased dendritic calcineurin led to increased dephosphorylation and activation of cofilin, an actin-depolymerizing factor. Calcineurin-activated cofilin induced an increase in actin depolymerization, a mechanism shown to cause spine loss in other models. Finally, via Golgi impregnation, we demonstrated that status epilepticus-induced spine loss is blocked by calcineurin inhibitors.To demonstrate that the increase in dendritic calcineurin activity was not model-specific, we examined a moderate fluid-percussion model of brain injury. Calcineurin activity was significantly increased in hippocampal and cortical homogenates. This increased activity persisted for several weeks post-injury, and may be involved in injury-induced neuronal pathologies. Also similar to the SE model, calcineurin immunoreactivity was dramatically increased in synaptoplasmic membrane fractions from cortex and hippocampus, and immunohistochemistry revealed increased calcineurin content in dendrites of hippocampal CA1-3 pyramidal neurons. These changes in calcineurin distribution also persisted for several weeks post-injury.These studies demonstrate a novel, cellular mechanism of calcium-mediated pathology in two models of neuronal injury. Elucidation of cellular events involved in the acute and chronic effects of brain trauma is essential for the development of more effective treatment options.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008