Imbalances in neurotrophins or their high-affinity Trk receptors have long been reported in neurodegenerative diseases. However, a molecular link between these gene products and neuronal cell death has not been established. In the trisomy 16 (Ts16) mouse there is increased apoptosis in the cortex, and hippocampal neurons undergo accelerated cell death that cannot be rescued by administration of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Ts16 neurons have normal levels of the TrkB tyrosine kinase receptor but an upregulation of the TrkB.T1 truncated receptor isoform. Here we show that restoration of the physiological level of the TrkB.T1 receptor by gene targeting rescues Ts16 cortical cell and hippocampal neuronal death. Moreover, it corrects resting Ca2+ levels and restores BDNF-induced intracellular signaling mediated by full-length TrkB in Ts16 hippocampal neurons. These data provide a direct link between neuronal cell death and abnormalities in Trk neurotrophin receptor levels.
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