Regulation of PTEN expression in neuronal apoptosis.PTEN phosphatase is a tumor suppressor gene that dephosphorylates phosphatidylinositol phosphates. PTEN restrains the function of a major antiapoptotic and survival pathway involving phosphoinositide 3-kinase and Akt kinase. Our purpose was to find out whether apoptotic inducers affect the expression of PTEN in cerebellar granule neurons and neuroblastoma 2a cells (Neuro-2a). PTEN mRNA expression showed a major 5.5-kb and a lower abundance 2.5-kb transcripts. In Neuro-2a cells, serum withdrawal induced a prominent, continuous decrease both in 5.5- and 2.5-kb transcripts of PTEN mRNA. Simultaneously, the expression level of 56-kDa PTEN protein decreased in Neuro-2a cells. The decrease in PTEN expression precedes apoptotic changes observed after serum withdrawal.On the contrary, okadaic acid and etoposide only slightly affected the expression of PTEN although they induce a prominent apoptosis in Neuro-2a cells. In cerebellar granule neurons, okadaic acid treatment induced a prominent increase in PTEN mRNA expression after 6-h treatment, both at the 5.5- and 2.5-kb transcripts. The early response in PTEN mRNA expression disappeared in 5.5-kb transcripts already at 12 h and in the case of 2.5-kb transcripts it lasted up to 24 h. Potassium deprivation, known to induce apoptosis in cerebellar granule cells, did not affect PTEN mRNA expression but together with serum deprivation induced a clear decrease in the 5. 5-kb PTEN transcripts. It seems that the changes in PTEN expression level and neuronal apoptosis are not related to each other in general but the expression of PTEN phosphatase seems to regulate certain apoptotic signals affecting phosphoinositide 3-kinase function.