The mechanism of delayed death of pyramidal cells in the hippocampal CA1 region and the acute death of various types of hilar neurons after ischemia is still unknown. Excitotoxicity may play a role in ischemic cell death, a prerequisite of which is the development of increased excitability or an enhanced excitatory transmission in the selectively vulnerable subfields of the hippocampus. Such changes may take place upon the loss or malfunction of local inhibitory neurons in the early postischemic period. In the present study we examined the vulnerability of non-pyramidal neurons containing a recently discovered calcium binding protein, calretinin, in the rat hippocampus following 15 min ischemia induced by four-vessel occlusion. Immunostaining for calretinin enabled us to visualize a new type of spiny non-pyramidal cell in the hippocampus specifically associated with the mossy fiber system. This cell type is present exclusively in regions where mossy fiber terminals occur, i.e. in the hilus of the dentate gyrus and in stratum lucidum of the CA3 subfield. A selective loss of immunoreactivity in these neurons was already observed at 12-24 h after ischemia, when the pyramidal cells in the CA1 region showed no signs of damage. At a survival time of two to three days, most if not all spiny calretinin-immunoreactive cells had disappeared from the hippocampus. Other types of calretinin-containing GABAergic neurons were also reduced in number, but only at a time when CA1 pyramidal cells also started to degenerate, i.e. two to three days after ischemia. We speculate that the early loss of spiny calretinin-containing cells, together with other non-pyramidal cells associated with the mossy fiber system (somatostatin-containing neurons and mossy cells of the hilus), may result in pathological network activity in the hippocampus, which may ultimately lead to an increased excitatory transmission and delayed pyramidal cell death in the CA1 region.
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