Glutamate receptor involvement and oxidative stress have both been implicated in damage to neurons due to impairment of energy metabolism. Using two different neuronal in vitro model systems, an ex vivo chick retinal preparation and dopamine neurons in mesencephalic culture, the involvement and interaction of these events as early occurring contributors to irreversible neuronal damage have been examined. Consistent with previous reports, the early acute changes in the retinal preparation, as well as irreversible loss of dopamine neurons due to inhibition of metabolism, can be prevented by blocking NMDA receptors during the time of energy inhibition. Oxidative stress was suggested to be a downstream consequence and contributor to neuronal cell loss due to either glutamate receptor overstimulation or metabolic inhibition since trapping of free radicals with the cyclic nitrone spin-trapping agent MDL 102,832 (1 mM) attenuated acute excitotoxicity in the retinal preparation or loss of mesencephalic dopamine neurons due to either metabolic inhibition by the succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor, malonate, or exposure to excitotoxins. In mesencephalic culture, malonate caused an enhanced efflux of both oxidized and reduced glutathione into the medium, a significant reduction in total reduced glutathione and a significant increase in total oxidized glutathione at time points that preceded those necessary to cause toxicity. These findings provide direct evidence for early oxidative events occurring following malonate exposure and suggest that the glutathione system is important for protecting neurons during inhibition of energy metabolism. Consistent with this, lowering of glutathione by buthionine sulfoxamine (BSO) pretreatment greatly potentiated malonate toxicity in the mesencephalic dopamine population. In contrast, BSO pretreatment did not potentiate glutamate toxicity. This latter finding indicates dissimilarities in the type of oxidative stress that is generated by the two insults and suggests that the oxidative challenge during energy inhibition is not solely a downstream consequence of glutamate receptor overstimulation.

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