: Dickkopf-3 (Dkk3) is an atypical member of the Dkk family of Wnt inhibitors, which has been implicated in the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disorders. Its role in the mechanisms of cellular degeneration and protection is still unknown. The aim of our work is to investigate the endogenous activation of the DKK3 pathway in a model of transient occlusion of the middle cerebral artery in rats. In particular, the animals were subjected to 1 h of ischemia followed by different reperfusion times (1 h, 6 h, 12 h and 24 h) to evaluate the downstream pathway and the time course of its activation. Western blot analysis showed increased Dkk3 expression in animals with the highest time of reperfusion. The increased levels of Dkk3 were accompanied by reduced Wnt3a, Frz1 and PIWI1a expression in the cytosol while FOXM1 and β-catenin decreased in the nucleus. These molecular changes led to an increase in the apoptotic pathway, as showed by the increased expression of Caspase 3 and Bax and the reduced levels of Bcl-2, and to a decrease in neurogenesis, as shown by the decreased expression of Tbr2, Ngn2 and Pax6. In the second part of the study, we decided to employ curcumin, an activator of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling, to investigate its effect on Dkk3. In particular, curcumin was administered 1 and 6 h after ischemia, and animals were sacrificed 24 h later when the expression of Dkk3 was higher. Our data displayed that curcumin administration decreased Dkk3 expression, and increased Wnt3a, Frz1 and PIWI1a levels. Well in line with these data, curcumin administration increased nuclear β-catenin and FOXM1 expression. The down-regulation of Dkk3 by curcumin led to reduced apoptosis and increased neurogenesis. Summarizing, our results showed that Dkk3 acts as an inhibitor of Wnt/β-catenin signaling during cerebral ischemia. Additionally, its inhibition and the contextual activation of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway are protective against ischemic stroke.
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