Upregulation of neurotoxic serine proteases, prothrombin, and protease-activated receptor 1 early after spinal cord injury

B. A. Citron, I. V. Smirnova, P. M. Arnold, B. W. Festoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Apoptosis, well-established in development and now also in degenerative disease, occurs with regularity in several cell compartments early after controlled contusion spinal cord injury (SCI). Cell death in astrocytic, microglial, and neuronal populations peaks at 3 days, while oligodendroglial apoptosis is found 10-14 days later. In this regard, the executioners of apoptosis, the caspase proteases, are also activated within 3 days of SCI. On the other hand, serine proteases, which have been shown to initiate apoptosis and activate caspases in culture models, have not been extensively studied in regards to nervous system trauma. As part of an ongoing effort to examine the spectrum of genes that are up- and downregulated in the injured rat spinal cord, we synthesized serine protease family specific primers to take advantage of conserved residues in the charge relay system and the codon preferences of these mammalian genes. These primers were then employed in a modified, family-specific differential mRNA display technique. One specific serine protease gene we found that was upregulated after injury was prothrombin. Qualitative and quantitative RT-PCR techniques indicated that this increase occurred early, already evident at 8 h after injury, and reached a maximum level fourfold above baseline at 24 h. Peak expression for prothrombin mRNA occurred prior to peak levels of apoptosis in astrocytic, microglial and neuronal compartments at 72 h. Of additional interest, gene database mining revealed that prothrombin shared -48% similarity with myelencephalon-specific protease (MSP), a neurotoxic serine protease previously found to be increased two- to threefold at 3 days after excitotoxic SCI. Since thrombin induces apoptosis in murine and chick motor and rat hippocampal neurons by activating a member of the novel protease-activated receptor (PAR) gene family known as PAR-1, we also analyzed PAR-1 by similar techniques and found that it, too, was upregulated after SCI with the same kinetics as prothrombin. We confirmed these results with gene array analyses that revealed more than one trypsin subfamily serine protease was activated by SCI. They imply the possibility of using specific, tissue-directed serine protease inhibition at translational or transcriptional levels, and offer a potential paradigm shift in drug discovery for SCI to limit the extent of apoptosis, and consequent functional loss, in the human spinal cord.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1191-1203
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Apoptosis
  • Motoneurons
  • PAR-1
  • Prothrombin
  • Thrombin
  • Traumatic spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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