Neuronal cells are susceptible to many stresses, which will cause the apoptosis and neurodegenerative diseases. The precise molecular mechanism behind the neuronal protection against these apoptotic stimuli is necessary for drug discovery. In the present study, we have found that plasmalogens (Pls), which are glycerophospholipids containing vinyl ether linkage at sn-1 position, can protect the neuronal cell death upon serum deprivation. Interestingly, caspse-9, but not caspase-8 and caspase-12, was cleaved upon the serum starvation in Neuro-2A cells. Pls treatments effectively reduced the activation of caspase-9. Furthermore, cellular signaling experiments showed that Pls enhanced phosphorylation of the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)-dependent serine/threoninespecific protein kinase AKT and extracellular-signal-regulated kinases ERK1/2. PI3K/AKT inhibitor LY294002 and MAPK/ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitor U0126 treatments study clearly indicated that Pls-mediated cell survival was dependent on the activation of these kinases. In addition, Pls also inhibited primary mouse hippocampal neuronal cell death induced by nutrient deprivation, which was associated with the inhibition of caspase-9 and caspase-3 cleavages. It was reported that Pls content decreased in the brain of the Alzheimer's patients, which indicated that the reduction of Pls content could endanger neurons. The present findings, taken together, suggest that Pls have an anti-apoptotic action in the brain. Further studies on precise mechanisms of Pls-mediated protection against cell death may lead us to establish a novel therapeutic approach to cure neurodegenerative disorders.
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