Cytochrome c release and caspase activation after traumatic brain injury

Patrick G. Sullivan, Jeffrey N. Keller, Wendy L. Bussen, Stephen W. Scheff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Experimental traumatic brain injury (TBI) results in a rapid and significant necrosis of cortical tissue at the site of injury. In the ensuing hours and days, secondary injury exacerbates the primary damage resulting in significant neurological dysfunction. The identification of cell death pathways that mediate this secondary traumatic injury have not been elucidated, however recent studies have implicated a role for apoptosis in the neuropathology of traumatic brain injury. The present study utilized a controlled cortical impact model of brain injury to assess the involvement of apoptotic pathways: release of cytochrome c from mitochondria and the activation of caspase-1- and caspase-3-like proteases in the injured cortex at 6, 12 and 24 h post-injury. Collectively, these results demonstrate cytochrome c release from mitochondria and its redistribution into the cytosol occurs in a time-dependent manner following TBI. The release of cytochrome c is accompanied by a time-dependent increase in caspase-3-like protease activity with no apparent increase in caspase-1-like activity. However, pretreatment with a general caspase inhibitor had no significant effect on the amount of cortical damage observed at 7 days post-injury. Our data suggest that several pro-apoptotic events occur following TBI, however the translocation of cytochrome c itself and/or other events upstream of caspase activation/inhibition may be sufficient to induce neuronal cell death.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-96
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 13 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Tonya Gibson and Michael Thompson for technical assistance. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Public Health Service grant NS39828 (to S.W.S.) and Kentucky Spinal Cord Head Injury Research Trust #9-20 (to S.W.S.).


  • Apoptosis
  • Brain injury
  • Cortical impact
  • Mitochondria
  • Neurotrauma
  • Oncosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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