Sensory neuroprotection, mitochondrial preservation, and therapeutic potential of N-acetyl-cysteine after nerve injury

A. M. Hart, G. Terenghi, J. O. Kellerth, M. Wiberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Neuronal death is a major factor in many neuropathologies, particularly traumatic, and yet no neuroprotective therapies are currently available clinically, although antioxidants and mitochondrial protection appear to be fruitful avenues of research. The simplest system involving neuronal death is that of the dorsal root ganglion after peripheral nerve trauma, where the loss of approximately 40% of primary sensory neurons is a major factor in the overwhelmingly poor clinical outcome of the several million nerve injuries that occur each year worldwide. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is a glutathione substrate which is neuroprotective in a variety of in vitro models of neuronal death, and which may enhance mitochondrial protection. Using TdT uptake nick-end labelling (TUNEL), optical disection, and morphological studies, the effect of systemic NAC treatment upon L4 and 5 primary sensory neuronal death after sciatic nerve transection was investigated. NAC (150 mg/kg/day) almost totally eliminated the extensive neuronal loss found in controls both 2 weeks (no treatment 21% loss, NAC 3%, P=0.03) and 2 months after axotomy (no treatment 35% loss, NAC 3%, P=0.002). Glial cell death was reduced (mean number TUNEL positive cells 2 months after axotomy: no treatment 51/ganglion pair, NAC 16/ganglion pair), and mitochondrial architecture was preserved. The effects were less profound when a lower dose was examined (30 mg/kg/day), although significant neuroprotection still occurred. This provides evidence of the importance of mitochondrial dysregulation in axotomy-induced neuronal death in the peripheral nervous system, and suggests that NAC merits investigation in CNS trauma. NAC is already in widespread clinical use for applications outside the nervous system; it therefore has immediate clinical potential in the prevention of primary sensory neuronal death, and has therapeutic potential in other neuropathological systems. © 2004 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)91-101
    Number of pages10
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


    • Acetyl-L-carnitine
    • ALCAR
    • Cell death
    • Central nervous system
    • CNS
    • Dorsal root ganglion
    • Dorsal root ganglion/ganglia
    • DRG
    • H33342
    • Hoechst 33342
    • Mitochondrial deoxyribonucleotidyl nucleic acid
    • mtDNA
    • NAC
    • Nerve injury
    • Neuroprotection
    • Stereology
    • TUNEL


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