Signal transduction in response to several growth factors that regulate oligodendrocyte development and survival involves the activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, which we detect in oligodendrocytes and their precursors. To investigate the role of this enzyme activity, we analyzed cell survival in cultures of oligodendrocytes treated with wortmannin or LY294002, two potent inhibitors of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase. Cell survival was inhibited by 60–70% in these cultures within 24 hours, as quantitated by a tetrazolium staining assay for viable cells and by measurement of DNA content. Similar results were obtained with oligodendrocyte precursor cells. Nuclei of the dying cells contained fragmented DNA, as revealed by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end-labeling assays, indicating that the cells were dying by apoptosis. Moreover, a significant increase in the number of cells with fragmented nuclear DNA was detected as early as 4 hours, well before any significant differences could be detected in glucose transport or cell viability. Exogenous addition of insulin-like growth factor-I, neurotrophin-3, platelet-derived growth factor, basic fibroblast growth factor, ciliary neurotrophic factor, N-acetyl cysteine, vitamin C, vitamin E, progesterone or serum did not prevent cell death in the presence of wortmannin or LY294002. These findings indicate that survival of oligodendrocytes and their precursors depends on a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase mediated signaling pathway. Inhibition of this critical enzyme activity induces apoptotic cell death, even in the presence of exogenous growth factors or serum.

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