Biomedical Sciences ETDs

Publication Date



Many studies have suggested that oxidative stress plays an important role in the pathophysiology of both multiple sclerosis (MS) and its animal model experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Yet, the mechanism by which oxidative stress leads to tissue damage in these disorders is unclear. Recent work from our laboratory has revealed that protein carbonylation, a major oxidative modification caused by severe and/or chronic oxidative stress conditions, is elevated in MS and EAE. Furthermore, protein carbonylation has been shown to alter protein structure leading to misfolding/aggregation. These findings prompted me to hypothesize that carbonylated proteins, formed as a consequence of oxidative stress and/or decreased proteasomal activity, promote protein aggregation to mediate neuronal apoptosis in vitro and in EAE. To test this novel hypothesis, I first characterized protein carbonylation, protein aggregation and apoptosis along the spinal cord during the course of myelin-oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG)35-55 peptide-induced EAE in C57BL/6 mice [Chapter 2]. The results show that carbonylated proteins accumulate throughout the course of the disease, albeit by different mechanisms: increased oxidative stress in acute EAE and decreased proteasomal activity in chronic EAE. I discovered not only that there is a temporal correlation between protein carbonylation and apoptosis but also that carbonyl levels are significantly higher in apoptotic cells. A high number of juxta-nuclear and cytoplasmic protein aggregates containing the majority of the oxidized proteins are also present during the course of EAE, which seems to be due to reduced autophagy. In chapter 3, I show that when gluthathione levels are reduced to those in EAE spinal cord, both neuron-like PC12 (nPC12) cells and primary neuronal cultures accumulate carbonylated proteins and undergo cell death (both by necrosis and apoptosis). Immunocytochemical and biochemical studies also revealed a temporal/spatial relationship between carbonylation, protein aggregation and cellular apoptosis. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the carbonyl scavenger hydralazine, histidine hydrazide and methoxylamine at preventing cell death identifies protein carbonyls as the toxic species. Experiments using well-characterized apoptosis inhibitors place protein carbonylation downstream of the mitochondrial transition pore opening and upstream of caspase activation. These in vitro studies demonstrate for the first time a causal relationship between carbonylation, protein aggregation and apoptosis of neurons undergoing oxidative damage. This relationship was further strengthened with the experiments carried out in chapter 4, which show that inhibition of protein aggregation with congo red (CR) or 2-hydroxypropyl β-cyclodextrin (HPCD) significantly reduced neuronal cell death without affecting the levels of oxidized proteins. Interestingly, large, juxta-nuclear aggregates are not formed upon GSH depletion, suggesting that the small protein aggregates are the cytotoxic species. Together, our data suggest that protein carbonylation causes protein aggregation to mediate neuronal apoptosis in vitro and that a similar mechanism might be contributing to neuronal/glial apoptosis in EAE. These studies provide the basis for testing protein carbonylation scavengers and protein aggregation inhibitors for the treatment of inflammatory demyelinating disorders.


Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis, Multiple Sclerosis, Neuronal cell death, Protein aggregation, Protein carbonylation, Oxidative stress, glutathione depletion


PHHS grant NS 057755 from National Institute of Health

Document Type




Degree Name

Biomedical Sciences

Level of Degree


Department Name

Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bizzozero, Nora

Second Committee Member

Caldwell, Kevin

Third Committee Member

Milligan, Erin