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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Neurotoxic mode of action of artemisinin.

We recently described a screening system designed to detect neurotoxicity of artemisinin derivatives based on primary neuronal brain stem cell cultures (G. Schmuck and R. K. Haynes, Neurotoxicity Res. 2:37-49, 2000). Here, we probe possible mechanisms of this brain stem-specific neurodegeneration, in which artemisinin-sensitive neuronal brain stem cell cultures are compared with nonsensitive cultures (cortical neurons, astrocytes). Effects on the cytoskeleton of brain stem cell cultures, but not that of cortical cell cultures, were visible after 7 days. However, after a recovery period of 7 days, this effect also became visible in cortical cells and more severe in brain stem cell cultures. Neurodegeneration appears to be induced by effects on intracellular targets such as the cytoskeleton, modulation of the energy status by mitochondrial or metabolic defects, oxidative stress or excitotoxic events. Artemisinin reduces intracellular ATP levels and the potential of the inner mitochondrial membrane below the cytotoxic concentration range in all three cell cultures, with these effects being most dominant in the brain stem cultures. Surprisingly, there were substantial effects on cortical neurons after 7 days and on astrocytes after 1 day. Artemisinin additionally induces oxidative stress, as observed as an increase of reactive oxygen species and of lipid peroxidation in both neuronal cell types. Interestingly, an induction of expression of AOE was only seen in astrocytes. Here, manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) expression was increased more than 3-fold and catalase expression was increased more than 1.5-fold. In brain stem neurons, MnSOD expression was dose dependently decreased. Copper-zinc superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, two other antioxidant enzymes that were investigated, did not show any changes in their mRNA expression in all three cell types after exposure to artemisinin.[1]


  1. Neurotoxic mode of action of artemisinin. Schmuck, G., Roehrdanz, E., Haynes, R.K., Kahl, R. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. (2002) [Pubmed]
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