Apoptosis signal-regulating kinase 1 (ASK1), a member of the mitogen-activated protein kinase 3 family, is activated by oxidative stress. The death-signaling pathway mediated by ASK1 is inhibited by DJ-1, which is linked to recessively inherited Parkinson's disease (PD). Considering that DJ-1 deficiency exacerbates the toxicity of the mitochondrial complex I inhibitor 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), we sought to investigate the direct role and mechanism of ASK1 in MPTP-induced dopamine neuron toxicity. In the present study, we found that MPTP administration to wild-type mice activates ASK1 in the midbrain. In ASK1 null mice, MPTP-induced motor impairment was less profound, and striatal dopamine content and nigral dopamine neuron counts were relatively preserved compared to wild-type littermates. Further, microglia and astrocyte activation seen in wild-type mice challenged with MPTP was markedly attenuated in ASK1 -/- mice. These data suggest that ASK1 is a key player in MPTP-induced glial activation linking oxidative stress with neuroinflammation, two well recognized pathogenetic factors in PD. These findings demonstrate that ASK1 is an important effector of MPTP-induced toxicity and suggest that inhibiting this kinase is a plausible therapeutic strategy for protecting dopamine neurons in PD.
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