The impairment of cognitive and motor functions in humans and animals caused by methamphetamine (METH) administration underscores the importance of METH toxicity in cortical neurons. The heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) exerts a cytoprotective effect against various neuronal injures; however, it remains unclear whether HO-1 is involved in METH-induced toxicity. We used primary cortical neuron/glia cocultures to explore the role of HO-1 in METH-induced toxicity. Exposure of cultured cells to various concentrations of METH (0.1, 0.5, 1, 3, 5, and 10 mM) led to cytotoxicity in a concentration-dependent manner. A METH concentration of 5 mM, which caused 50% of neuronal death and glial activation, was chosen for subsequent experiments. RT-PCR and Western blot analysis revealed that METH significantly induced HO-1 mRNA and protein expression, both preceded cell death. Double and triple immunofluorescence staining further identified HO-1-positive cells as activated astrocytes, microglia, and viable neurons, but not dying neurons. Inhibition of the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway significantly blocked HO-1 induction by METH and aggravated METH neurotoxicity. Inhibition of HO activity using tin protoporphyrine IX significantly reduced HO activity and exacerbated METH neurotoxicity. However, prior induction of HO-1 using cobalt protoporphyrine IX partially protected neurons from METH toxicity. Taken together, our results suggest that induction of HO-1 by METH via the p38 signaling pathway may be protective, albeit insufficient to completely protect cortical neurons from METH toxicity.
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