Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Medicine

Department

Biochemistry

First Advisor

Dr. Douglas A. Andres

Abstract

The small GTPases function as molecular switches to control diverse signaling cascades. The mammalian Rit and Rin, along with Drosophila Ric, comprise an evolutionarily conserved subfamily of the Ras-related GTPases. Previous studies using cultured cell models suggested that Rit was involved in the control of cell proliferation, transformation, neuronal differentiation, morphogenesis, and cell survival, but the principal physiological function of Rit remained uncharacterized.

To address this outstanding question, we employed a genetic approach, engineering a Rit knockout mouse. Using this animal model, we demonstrate a central role of Rit in governing cell survival in a p38-dependent fashion. Primary mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) derived from Rit-/- mice display increased apoptosis and selective disruption of MAPK signaling following oxidative stress. These deficits include a reduction in ROS-mediated stimulation of a novel p38-MK2-HSP27 signaling cascade, which appears to act upstream of the mTORC2 complex to control Akt-dependent cell survival.

In the adult brain, proliferation of stem cells within the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG), provide a lifelong supply of new neurons. Adult neurogenesis appears critical for learning and memory and is altered in animal models of brain injury and neurological diseases. Thus, a greater understanding of the regulation of adult neurogenesis will provide insight into its myriad physiological roles but also to the development of therapeutic strategies for the treatment of injury and the progression of brain diseases. Here we find that Rit plays a central role in governing the survival of hippocampal neurons in response to oxidative stress. Importantly, using a controlled cortical impact model of traumatic brain injury (TBI), we show that Rit acts to protect newborn immature neurons within the SGZ of the DG from apoptosis following TBI. Finally, studies indicate that Rit plays a significant role in directing IGF-1 signaling, a key neurotrophin known to promote neurogenesis and to protect neurons against apoptotic stress.

Together, these studies establish Rit as a critical regulator of a p38 MAPKdependent signaling cascade that functions as an important survival mechanism for cells in response to oxidative stress, including the survival of newborn hippocampal neurons in the traumatically injured brain.

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