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1.  GSK-3 as a Target for Lithium-Induced Neuroprotection Against Excitotoxicity in Neuronal Cultures and Animal Models of Ischemic Stroke 
The mood stabilizer lithium inhibits glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) directly or indirectly by enhancing serine phosphorylation of both α and β isoforms. Lithium robustly protected primary brain neurons from glutamate-induced excitotoxicity; these actions were mimicked by other GSK-3 inhibitors or silencing/inhibiting GSK-3α and/or β isoforms. Lithium rapidly activated Akt to enhance GSK-3 serine phosphorylation and to block glutamate-induced Akt inactivation. Lithium also up-regulated Bcl-2 and suppressed glutamate-induced p53 and Bax. Induction of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was required for lithium’s neuroprotection to occur. BDNF promoter IV was activated by GSK-3 inhibition using lithium or other drugs, or through gene silencing/inactivation of either isoform. Further, lithium’s neuroprotective effects were associated with inhibition of NMDA receptor-mediated calcium influx and down-stream signaling. In rodent ischemic models, post-insult treatment with lithium decreased infarct volume, ameliorated neurological deficits, and improved functional recovery. Up-regulation of heat-shock protein 70 and Bcl-2 as well as down-regulation of p53 likely contributed to lithium’s protective effects. Delayed treatment with lithium improved functional MRI responses, which was accompanied by enhanced angiogenesis. Two GSK-3-regulated pro-angiogenic factors, matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) and vascular endothelial growth factor were induced by lithium. Finally, lithium promoted migration of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) by up-regulation of MMP-9 through GSK-3β inhibition. Notably, transplantation of lithium-primed MSCs into ischemic rats enhanced MSC migration to the injured brain regions and improved the neurological performance. Several other GSK-3 inhibitors have also been reported to be beneficial in rodent ischemic models. Together, GSK-3 inhibition is a rational strategy to combat ischemic stroke and other excitotoxicity-related brain disorders.
PMCID: PMC3152742  PMID: 21886605
lithium; glycogen synthase kinase-3; excitotoxicity; cerebral ischemia; mesenchymal stem cells
2.  Propofol Protects Against Focal Cerebral Ischemia via Inhibition of Microglia-Mediated Proinflammatory Cytokines in a Rat Model of Experimental Stroke 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82729.
Ischemic stroke induces microglial activation and release of proinflammatory cytokines, contributing to the expansion of brain injury and poor clinical outcome. Propofol has been shown to ameliorate neuronal injury in a number of experimental studies, but the precise mechanisms involved in its neuroprotective effects remain unclear. We tested the hypothesis that propofol confers neuroprotection against focal ischemia by inhibiting microglia-mediated inflammatory response in a rat model of ischemic stroke. Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) for 2 h followed by 24 h of reperfusion. Propofol (50 mg/kg/h) or vehicle was infused intravenously at the onset of reperfusion for 30 minutes. In vehicle-treated rats, MCAO resulted in significant cerebral infarction, higher neurological deficit scores and decreased time on the rotarod compared with sham-operated rats. Propofol treatment reduced infarct volume and improved the neurological functions. In addition, molecular studies demonstrated that mRNA expression of microglial marker Cd68 and Emr1 was significantly increased, and mRNA and protein expressions of proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1β and interleukin-6 were augmented in the peri-infarct cortical regions of vehicle-treated rats 24 h after MCAO. Immunohistochemical study revealed that number of total microglia and proportion of activated microglia in the peri-infarct cortical regions were markedly elevated. All of these findings were ameliorated in propofol-treated rats. Furthermore, vehicle-treated rats had higher plasma levels of interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein 24 h after MCAO, which were decreased after treatment with propofol. These results suggest that propofol protects against focal cerebral ischemia via inhibition of microglia-mediated proinflammatory cytokines. Propofol may be a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of ischemic stroke and other neurodegenerative diseases associated with microglial activation.
PMCID: PMC3857282  PMID: 24349350
3.  Lithium Ameliorates Neurodegeneration, Suppresses Neuroinflammation, and Improves Behavioral Performance in a Mouse Model of Traumatic Brain Injury 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2012;29(2):362-374.
Although traumatic brain injury (TBI) is recognized as one of the leading causes of death from trauma to the central nervous system (CNS), no known treatment effectively mitigates its effects. Lithium, a primary drug for the treatment of bipolar disorder, has been known to have neuroprotective effects in various neurodegenerative conditions such as stroke. Until this study, however, it has not been investigated as a post-insult treatment for TBI. To evaluate whether lithium could have beneficial effects following TBI, lithium at a dose of 1.5 mEq/kg was administered after injury. Assessed at 3 days and 3 weeks post-injury using hematoxylin and eosin staining, lithium treatment was found to reduce lesion volume. Lithium at doses of 2.0 and 3.0 mEq/kg also significantly reduced lesion volume at 3 days after injury, and the therapeutic window was at least 3 h post-injury. TBI-induced neuronal death, microglial activation, and cyclooxygenase-2 induction were all attenuated by lithium at 3 days after injury. In addition, lithium treatment reduced TBI-induced matrix metalloproteinase-9 expression and preserved the integrity of the blood–brain barrier. As for behavioral outcomes, lithium treatment reduced anxiety-like behavior in an open-field test, and improved short- and long-term motor coordination in rotarod and beam-walk tests. Lithium robustly increased serine phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK-3β), suggesting that the underlying mechanisms responsible for lithium's protective effects are triggered by increasing phosphorylation of this kinase and thereby inhibiting its activity. Our results support the notion that lithium has heretofore unrecognized capacity to mitigate the neurodegenerative effects and improve functional outcomes in TBI.
PMCID: PMC3261788  PMID: 21895523
GSK-3β; lithium; neuroinflammation; neuroprotection; traumatic brain injury
4.  Lithium blocks ethanol-induced modulation of protein kinases in the developing brain 
Lithium has been shown to be neuroprotective against various insults including ethanol exposure. We previously reported that ethanol-induced apoptotic neurodegeneration in the postnatal day 7 (P7) mice is associated with decreases in phosphorylation levels of Akt, glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK-3β), and AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), and alteration in lipid profiles in the brain. Here, P7 mice were injected with ethanol and lithium, and the effects of lithium on ethanol-induced alterations in phosphorylation levels of protein kinases and lipid profiles in the brain were examined. Immunoblot and immunohistochemical analyses showed that lithium significantly blocked ethanol-induced caspase-3 activation and reduction in phosphorylation levels of Akt, GSK-3β and AMPK. Further, lithium inhibited accumulation of cholesterol ester (ChE) and N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine (NAPE) triggered by ethanol in the brain. These results suggest that Akt, GSK-3β, and AMPK are involved in ethanol-induced neurodegeneration and the neuroprotective effects of lithium by modulating both apoptotic and survival pathways.
PMCID: PMC2279304  PMID: 18190791
lithium; ethanol; brain; apoptosis; Caspase-3; Akt; glycogen synthase kinase-3β; AMP-activated protein kinase
5.  Neuroprotection by Valproic Acid in Mouse Models of Permanent and Transient Focal Cerebral Ischemia 
Valproic acid (VPA) is a well-known anti-epileptic and mood stabilizing drug. A growing number of reports demonstrate that VPA is neuroprotective against various insults. Despite intensive efforts to develop new therapeutics for stroke over the past two decades, all treatments have thus far failed to show clinical effect because of treatment-limiting side effects of the drugs. Therefore, a safety-validated drug like VPA would be an attractive candidate if it has neuroprotective effects against ischemic insults. The present study was undertaken to examine whether pre- and post-insult treatments with VPA protect against brain infarct and neurological deficits in mouse transient (tMCAO) and permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion (pMCAO) models. In the tMCAO (2 hr MCAO and 22 hr reperfusion) model, intraperitoneal injection of VPA (300 mg/kg, i.p.) 30 min prior to MCAO significantly reduced the infarct size and the neurological deficit. VPA treatment immediately after reperfusion significantly reduced the infarct size. The administration of VPA at 4 hr after reperfusion failed to reduce the infarct size and the neurological deficit. In the pMCAO model, treatment with VPA (300 mg/kg, i.p.) 30 min prior to MCAO significantly attenuated the infarct size, but did not affect the neurological deficit. Western blot analysis of acetylated H3 and H4 protein levels in extracts from the ischemic cortical area showed that treatment with VPA increased the expression of acetylated H3 and H4 at 2 hrs after MCAO. These results demonstrated that treatment with VPA prior to ischemia attenuated ischemic brain damage in both mice tMCAO and pMCAO models and treatment with VPA immediately after reperfusion reduced the infarct area in the tMCAO model. VPA could therefore be evaluated for clinical use in stroke patients.
PMCID: PMC3034125  PMID: 21311686
Ischemic stroke; Therapeutic time window; Drug development; Histone deacetylase inhibitor
6.  TLR7 preconditioning induces robust neuroprotection against stroke by a novel type I interferon-mediated mechanism 
Background and Purpose
Systemic administration of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and TLR9 agonists prior to cerebral ischemia, have been shown to reduce ischemic injury by reprogramming the brain’s response to stroke. Our goal was to explore the mechanism of TLR induced neuroprotection by determining whether a TLR7 agonist also protects against stroke injury.
C57Bl/6, TNF−/−, interferon regulatory factor (IRF)7−/−, or type I interferon receptor (IFNAR)−/− mice were subcutaneously administered the TLR7 agonist Gardiquimod (GDQ) 72 hr prior to middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO). Infarct volume and functional outcome were determined following reperfusion. Plasma cytokine responses and induction of mRNA for IFN related genes in the brain were measured. IFNAR−/− mice were also treated with the TLR4 agonist (lipopolysaccharide) or the TLR9 agonist (CpG) prior to MCAO and infarct volumes measured.
The results show that GDQ reduces infarct volume as well as functional deficits in mice. GDQ pretreatment provided robust neuroprotection in TNF−/− mice indicating that TNF was not essential. GDQ induced a significant increase in plasma IFNα levels and both IRF7−/− and IFNAR−/− mice failed to be protected, implicating a role for IFN signaling in TLR7 mediated protection.
Our studies provide the first evidence that TLR7 preconditioning can mediate neuroprotection against ischemic injury. Moreover, we show that the mechanism of protection is unique from other TLR preconditioning ligands in that it is independent of TNF and dependent on IFNAR.
PMCID: PMC3943206  PMID: 22403050
Ischemia; Neuroprotection
Neuroscience  2008;155(3):567-572.
Lithium and valproic acid (VPA) are two primary drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, and have been shown to have neuroprotective properties in vivo and in vitro. A recent study demonstrated that combined treatment with lithium and VPA elicits synergistic neuroprotective effects against glutamate excitotoxicity in cultured brain neurons, and the synergy involves potentiated inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) activity through enhanced GSK-3 serine phosphorylation (Leng et al., J Neurosci 28: 2576–2588, 2008). We therefore investigated the effects of lithium and VPA cotreatment on the disease symptom onset, survival time and neurological deficits in cooper zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD-1) G93A mutant mice, a commonly used mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The G93A ALS mice received twice daily intraperitoneal injections with LiCl (60 mg/kg), VPA (300 mg/kg) or lithium plus VPA, starting from the 30th day after birth and continuing until death. We found that combined treatment with lithium and VPA produced a greater and more consistent effect in delaying the onset of disease symptoms, prolonging the life span and decreasing the neurological deficit scores, compared with the results of monotreatment with lithium or VPA. Moreover, lithium in conjunction with VPA was more effective than lithium or VPA alone in enhancing the immunostaining of phospho-GSK-3βSer9 in brain and lumbar spinal cord sections. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of enhanced neuroprotection by a combinatorial approach using mood stabilizers in a mouse ALS model. Our results suggest that clinical trials using lithium and VPA in combination for ALS patients are a rational strategy.
PMCID: PMC2709275  PMID: 18640245
lithium; valproic acid; GSK-3β; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); G93A mice; behavioral deficits
8.  Lithium Reduces BACE1 Overexpression, Beta Amyloid Accumulation, and Spatial Learning Deficits in Mice with Traumatic Brain Injury 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2012;29(13):2342-2351.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) leads to both acute injury and long-term neurodegeneration, and is a major risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease (AD). Beta amyloid (Aβ) peptide deposits in the brain are one of the pathological hallmarks of AD. Aβ levels increase after TBI in animal models and in patients with head trauma, and reducing Aβ levels after TBI has beneficial effects. Lithium is known to be neuroprotective in various models of neurodegenerative disease, and can reduce Aβ generation by modulating glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) activity. In this study we explored whether lithium would reduce Aβ load after TBI, and improve learning and memory in a mouse TBI model. Lithium chloride (1.5 mEq/kg, IP) was administered 15 min after TBI, and once daily thereafter for up to 3 weeks. At 3 days after injury, lithium attenuated TBI-induced Aβ load increases, amyloid precursor protein (APP) accumulation, and β-APP-cleaving enzyme-1 (BACE1) overexpression in the corpus callosum and hippocampus. Increased Tau protein phosphorylation in the thalamus was also attenuated after lithium treatment following TBI at the same time point. Notably, lithium treatment significantly improved spatial learning and memory in the Y-maze test conducted 10 days after TBI, and in the Morris water maze test performed 17–20 days post-TBI, in association with increased hippocampal preservation. Thus post-insult treatment with lithium appears to alleviate the TBI-induced Aβ load and consequently improves spatial memory. Our findings suggest that lithium is a potentially useful agent for managing memory impairments after TBI or other head trauma.
PMCID: PMC3430485  PMID: 22583494
beta amyloid; β-APP-cleaving enzyme-1; learning and memory; lithium; traumatic brain injury
9.  Lithium Blocks the c-Jun Stress Response and Protects Neurons via Its Action on Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(17):6027-6036.
Lithium has been used as an effective mood-stabilizing drug for the treatment of manic episodes and depression for 50 years. More recently, lithium has been found to protect neurons from death induced by a wide array of neurotoxic insults. However, the molecular basis for the prophylactic effects of lithium have remained obscure. A target of lithium, glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3), is implicated in neuronal death after trophic deprivation. The mechanism whereby GSK-3 exerts its neurotoxic effects is also unknown. Here we show that lithium blocks the canonical c-Jun apoptotic pathway in cerebellar granule neurons deprived of trophic support. This effect is mimicked by the structurally independent inhibitors of GSK-3, FRAT1, and indirubin. Like lithium, these prevent the stress induced c-Jun protein increase and subsequent apoptosis. These events are downstream of c-Jun transactivation, since GSK-3 inhibitors block neuronal death induced by constitutively active c-Jun (Ser/Thr→Asp) and FRAT1 expression inhibits AP1 reporter activity. Consistent with this, AP1-dependent expression of proapoptotic Bim requires GSK-3-like activity. These data suggest that a GSK-3-like kinase acts in tandem with c-Jun N-terminal kinase to coordinate the full execution of the c-Jun stress response and neuronal death in response to trophic deprivation.
PMCID: PMC180950  PMID: 12917327
10.  Effects of progesterone administration on infarct volume and functional deficits following permanent focal cerebral ischemia in rats 
Brain research  2008;1257:94-101.
Recent experimental evidence indicates that progesterone (PROG) protects against various models of brain injury, including ischemic stroke. Most human studies of pharmacologic treatments for acute cerebral stroke have failed despite initial success in animal models. To simulate better the typical human stroke without reperfusion, the present study was conducted to examine the efficacy of PROG on infarct volume and functional outcome in a permanent model of stroke, using direct cauterization of the middle cerebral artery (MCA). Twenty-four male adult Sprague-Dawley rats underwent pMCAO by electro-coagulation and sham operation. After induction of permanent MCA occlusion (pMCAO), the rats received an initial intraperitoneal injection of PROG (8 mg/kg) or vehicle at 1h post-occlusion followed by subcutaneous injections at 6, 24 and 48 h. Functional deficits were tested on the rotarod and grip strength meter at 24, 48 and 72 h after pMCAO. The rats were killed 72 h after surgery and isolated brain was sectioned into coronal slices and stained with 2, 3, 5-triphenyltetrazolium chloride (TTC). PROG-treated rats showed a substantial reduction (54.05%) in the volume of the infarct (% contralateral hemisphere) compared to vehicle controls. In addition there was a significant improvement in ability to remain on an accelerating rotarod and increased grip strength observed in the pMCAO rats treated with PROG compared to vehicle. Taken together, these data indicate that PROG is beneficial in one of the best-characterized models of stroke, and may warrant further testing in future clinical trials for human stroke.
PMCID: PMC2656912  PMID: 19135987
Progesterone; Brain damage; Permanent MCAO; Functional recovery; Infarct volume
11.  Lithium reduces apoptosis and autophagy after neonatal hypoxia–ischemia 
Cell Death & Disease  2010;1(7):e56-.
Lithium is used in the treatment of bipolar mood disorder. Reportedly, lithium can be neuroprotective in models of adult brain ischemia. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of lithium in a model of neonatal hypoxic–ischemic brain injury. Nine-day-old male rats were subjected to unilateral hypoxia–ischemia (HI) and 2 mmol/kg lithium chloride was injected i.p. immediately after the insult. Additional lithium injections, 1 mmol/kg, were administered at 24-h intervals. Pups were killed 6, 24 or 72 h after HI. Lithium reduced the infarct volume from 24.7±2.9 to 13.8±3.3 mm3 (44.1%) and total tissue loss (degeneration + lack of growth) from 67.4±4.4 to 38.4±5.9 mm3 (43.1%) compared with vehicle at 72 h after HI. Injury was reduced in the cortex, hippocampus, thalamus and striatum. Lithium reduced the ischemia-induced dephosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β and extracellular signal-regulated kinase, the activation of calpain and caspase-3, the mitochondrial release of cytochrome c and apoptosis-inducing factor, as well as autophagy. We conclude that lithium could mitigate the brain injury after HI by inhibiting neuronal apoptosis. The lithium doses used were in the same range as those used in bipolar patients, suggesting that lithium might be safely used for the avoidance of neonatal brain injury.
PMCID: PMC3032556  PMID: 21364661
asphyxia; apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF); caspase; GSK-3; ERK
12.  Limb remote-preconditioning protects against focal ischemia in rats and contradicts the dogma of therapeutic time windows for preconditioning 
Neuroscience  2007;151(4):1099-1103.
Remote ischemic preconditioning is an emerging concept for stroke treatment, but its protection against focal stroke has not been established. We tested whether remote preconditioning, performed in the ipsilateral hind limb, protects against focal stroke and explored its protective parameters. Stroke was generated by a permanent occlusion of the left distal middle cerebral artery (MCA) combined with a 30 minute occlusion of the bilateral common carotid arteries (CCA) in male rats. Limb preconditioning was generated by 5 or 15 minute occlusion followed with the same period of reperfusion of the left hind femoral artery, and repeated for 2 or 3 cycles. Infarct was measured 2 days later. The results showed that rapid preconditioning with 3 cycles of 15 minutes performed immediately before stroke reduced infarct size from 47.7±7.6% of control ischemia to 9.8±8.6%; at 2 cycles of 15 minutes, infarct was reduced to 24.7±7.3%; at 2 cycles of 5 minutes, infarct was not reduced. Delayed preconditioning with 3 cycles of 15 minutes conducted 2 days before stroke also reduced infarct to 23.0 ±10.9%, but with 2 cycles of 15 minutes it offered no protection. The protective effects at these two therapeutic time windows of remote preconditioning are consistent with those of conventional preconditioning, in which the preconditioning ischemia is induced in the brain itself. Unexpectedly, intermediate preconditioning with 3 cycles of 15 minutes performed 12 hours before stroke also reduced infarct to 24.7±4.7%, which contradicts the current dogma for therapeutic time windows for the conventional preconditioning that has no protection at this time point. In conclusion, remote preconditioning performed in one limb protected against ischemic damage after focal cerebral ischemia.
PMCID: PMC2696348  PMID: 18201834
preconditioning; remote preconditioning; limb preconditioning; cerebral ischemia; focal ischemia
13.  Effects of the cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitor nimesulide on cerebral infarction and neurological deficits induced by permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion in the rat 
Previous studies suggest that the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitor nimesulide has a remarkable protective effect against different types of brain injury including ischemia. Since there are no reports on the effects of nimesulide on permanent ischemic stroke and because most cases of human stroke are caused by permanent occlusion of cerebral arteries, the present study was conducted to assess the neuroprotective efficacy of nimesulide on the cerebral infarction and neurological deficits induced by permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion (pMCAO) in the rat.
Ischemia was induced by permanent occlusion of the middle cerebral artery in rats, via surgical insertion of a nylon filament into the internal carotid artery. Infarct volumes (cortical, subcortical and total) and functional recovery, assessed by neurological score evaluation and rotarod performance test, were performed 24 h after pMCAO. In initial experiments, different doses of nimesulide (3, 6 and 12 mg/kg; i.p) or vehicle were administered 30 min before pMCAO and again at 6, 12 and 18 h after stroke. In later experiments we investigated the therapeutic time window of protection of nimesulide by delaying its first administration 0.5–4 h after the ischemic insult.
Repeated treatments with nimesulide dose-dependently reduced cortical, subcortical and total infarct volumes as well as the neurological deficits and motor impairment resulting from permanent ischemic stroke, but only the administration of the highest dose (12 mg/kg) was able to significantly (P < 0.01) diminish infarct volume. The lower doses failed to significantly reduce infarction but showed a beneficial effect on neurological function. Nimesulide (12 mg/kg) not only reduced infarct volume but also enhanced functional recovery when the first treatment was given up to 2 h after stroke.
These data show that nimesulide protects against permanent focal cerebral ischemia, even with a 2 h post-treatment delay. These findings have important implications for the therapeutic potential of using COX-2 inhibitors in the treatment of stroke.
PMCID: PMC546225  PMID: 15656909
14.  Lithium Protection of Phencyclidine-induced Neurotoxicity in Developing Brain: the Role of PI-3K/Akt and MEK/ERK Signaling Pathways 
Phencyclidine (PCP) and other N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists have been shown to be neurotoxic to developing brains and to result in schizophrenia-like behaviors later in development. Prevention of both effects by antischizophrenic drugs suggests the validity of PCP neurodevelopmental toxicity as a heuristic model of schizophrenia. Lithium is used for the treatment of bipolar and schizoaffective disorders and has recently been shown to have neuroprotective properties. The present study used organotypic corticostriatal slices taken from postnatal day 2 rat pups to investigate the protective effect of lithium and the role of the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI-3K)/Akt and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase/extracellular regulated kinase (MEK/ERK) pathways in PCP-induced cell death. Lithium pretreatment dose-dependently reduced PCP-induced caspase-3 activation and DNA fragmentation in layer II-IV of the cortex. PCP elicited time-dependent inhibition of the MEK/ERK and PI-3K/Akt pathways, as indicated by dephosphorylation of ERK1/2 and Akt. The pro-apoptotic factor glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK-3β) was also dephosphorylated at serine 9 and thus activated. Lithium prevented PCP-induced inhibition of the two pathways and activation of GSK-3β. Furthermore, blocking either PI-3K/Akt or MEK/ERK pathway abolished the protective effect of lithium, while inhibiting GSK-3β activity mimicked the protective effect of lithium. However, no crosstalk between the two pathways was found. Finally, specific GSK-3β inhibition did not prevent PCP-induced dephosphorylation of Akt and ERK. These data strongly suggest that the protective effect of lithium against PCP-induced neuroapoptosis is mediated through independent stimulation of the PI-3K/Akt and ERK pathways and suppression of GSK-3β activity.
PMCID: PMC2561310  PMID: 18544676
15.  Post-ischemic estradiol treatment reduced glial response and triggers distinct cortical and hippocampal signaling in a rat model of cerebral ischemia 
Estradiol has been shown to exert neuroprotective effects in several neurodegenerative conditions, including cerebral ischemia. The presence of this hormone prior to ischemia attenuates the damage associated with such events in a rodent model (middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO)), although its therapeutic value when administered post-ischemia has not been assessed. Hence, we evaluated the effects of estradiol treatment after permanent MCAO (pMCAO) was induced in rats, studying the PI3K/AKT/GSK3/β-catenin survival pathway and the activation of SAPK-JNK in two brain areas differently affected by pMCAO: the cortex and hippocampus. In addition, we analyzed the effect of estradiol on the glial response to injury.
Male rats were subjected to pMCAO and estradiol (0.04 mg/kg) was administered 6, 24, and 48 h after surgery. The animals were sacrificed 6 h after the last treatment, and brain damage was evaluated by immunohistochemical quantification of ‘reactive gliosis’ using antibodies against GFAP and Iba1. In addition, Akt, phospho-AktSer473, phospho-AktThr308, GSK3, phospho-GSK3Ser21/9, β-catenin, SAPK-JNK, and pSAPK-JNKThr183/Tyr185 levels were determined in western blots of the ipsilateral cerebral cortex and hippocampus, and regional differences in neuronal phospho-Akt expression were determined by immunohistochemistry.
The increases in the percentage of GFAP- (5.25-fold) and Iba1- (1.8-fold) labeled cells in the cortex and hippocampus indicate that pMCAO induced ‘reactive gliosis’. This effect was prevented by post-ischemic estradiol treatment; diminished the number of these cells to those comparable with control animals. pMCAO down-regulated the PI3K/AkT/GSK3/β-catenin survival pathway to different extents in the cortex and hippocampus, the activity of which was restored by estradiol treatment more efficiently in the cerebral cortex (the most affected region) than in the hippocampus. No changes in the phosphorylation of SAPK-JNK were observed 54 h after inducing pMCAO, whereas pMCAO did significantly decrease the phospho-AktSer473 in neurons, an effect that was reversed by estradiol.
The present study demonstrates that post-pMCAO estradiol treatment attenuates ischemic injury in both neurons and glia, events in which the PI3K/AKT/GSK3/β-catenin pathway is at least partly involved. These findings indicate that estradiol is a potentially useful treatment to enhance recovery after human ischemic stroke.
PMCID: PMC3414748  PMID: 22747981
MCAO; Focal ischemia; Rat; Estradiol; Brain; Estrogen; Neuroprotection; Stroke; Western blot; Immunohistochemistry; Akt
16.  Role of Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription-3 in Estradiol-Mediated Neuroprotection 
Estradiol is protective in experimental cerebral ischemia, but the precise mechanisms remain unknown. Signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 (STAT3) is a transcription factor that is activated by estrogen, translocates to the nucleus, and induces the transcription of neuroprotective genes, such as bcl-2. We determined whether estradiol increases STAT3 activation in female rat brain after focal cerebral ischemia and whether STAT3 activation contributes to estradiol-mediated neuroprotection against ischemic brain injury. Ovariectomized (OVX) female rats with and without estradiol replacement were subjected to 2 h of middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO), and phosphorylated STAT3 (P-STAT3) and total STAT3 (T-STAT3) were quantified by Western blot analysis at 3 and 22 h of reperfusion. STAT3 activation was colocalized with neuronal and survival markers microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP2) and Bcl-2 using immunohistochemistry. Infarct size was measured at 22 h after MCAO in estradiol-treated OVX animals in the presence and absence of STAT3 inhibitor cucurbitacin I (JSI-124) using 2,3,5-triphenyltetrazolium chloride staining. Estradiol increased P-STAT3 in the ischemic cortex cytosolic fraction at 3 h after MCAO without affecting T-STAT3. This was associated with increased P-STAT3 in the nuclear fraction, which remained elevated at 22 h after MCAO. The nuclear P-STAT3 colocalized with MAP2 and Bcl-2 within the peri-infarct zone. The P-STAT3 inhibitor JSI-124 abolished the protective effect of estradiol without affecting infarct size in untreated OVX rats. We conclude that estradiol increases STAT3 phosphorylation in neurons after MCAO and that STAT3 activation plays an important role in estradiol-mediated neuroprotection.
PMCID: PMC2570353  PMID: 17611279
estrogen; STAT3; ischemia; neuroprotection; MCAO; JSI-124 (cucurbitacin I)
17.  The effect of endothelin receptor A antagonism on basilar artery endothelium-dependent relaxation after ischemic stroke 
Life sciences  2012;91(0):676-680.
Endothelin (ET) receptor A antagonism decreases neuronal damage in experimental models of stroke. Since large arteries like basilar artery contribute significantly to total cerebrovascular resistance and are major determinants of microvascular pressure, dysregulation of basilar artery function may worsen stroke injury. ET-1 is involved in the regulation of basilar constriction. However, whether stroke influences vasoreactivity of basilar artery and to what extent ET-1 contributes to basilar vascular dysfunction after stroke remained unknown. The goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that ET-1 impairs basilar artery vasorelaxation after ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) injury via activation of ETA receptor.
Main methods
Male Wistar rats were subjected to 3/21 h middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO)/reperfusion surgery and one group received ETA receptor antagonist atrasentan (5 mg/kg) ip at reperfusion. At 24 h, basilar arteries were isolated from control non-stroked, stroked and stroked + atrasentan treated animals for vascular reactivity measurements using pressurized arteriograph.
Key findings
Acetylcholine (Ach)-induced maximum relaxation (Rmax) was decreased in stroked animals as compared to non-stroked group and ETA antagonism partially restored it. There was also a trend for decreased EC50 value for the antagonist treatment group indicating improved Ach sensitivity.
These findings suggest that ischemia/reperfusion not only affects vessels distal to the occlusion but also impairs relaxation of proximal large vessels. ET-1-mediated basilar artery dysfunction may contribute to neurovascular damage after stroke and early restoration of vascular function by ET receptor antagonism after I/R injury may offer a therapeutic strategy.
PMCID: PMC3744059  PMID: 22365958
Ischemia/reperfusion; Basilar artery (Rat); Vascular reactivity; Endothelin-1; Receptor antagonist
18.  Activation of Akt/protein kinase B mediates the protective effects of mechanical stretching against myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury 
Journal of Veterinary Science  2012;13(3):235-244.
Akt/protein kinase B is a well-known cell survival factor and activated by many stimuli including mechanical stretching. Therefore, we evaluated the cardioprotective effect of a brief mechanical stretching of rat hearts and determined whether activation of Akt through phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) is involved in stretch-induced cardioprotection (SIC). Stretch preconditioning reduced infarct size and improved post-ischemic cardiac function compared to the control group. Phosphorylation of Akt and its downstream substrate, GSK-3β, was increased by mechanical stretching and completely blocked by wortmannin, a PI3K inhibitor. Treatment with lithium or SB216763 (GSK-3β inhibitors) before ischemia induction mimicked the protective effects of SIC on rat heart. Gadolinium (Gd3+), a blocker of stretch-activated ion channels (SACs), inhibited the stretch-induced phosphorylation of Akt and GSK-3β. Furthermore, SIC was abrogated by wortmannin and Gd3+. In vivo stretching induced by an aorto-caval shunt increased Akt phosphorylation and reduced myocardial infarction; these effects were diminished by wortmannin and Gd3+ pretreatment. Our results showed that mechanical stretching can provide cardioprotection against ischemia-reperfusion injury. Additionally, the activation of Akt, which might be regulated by SACs and the PI3K pathway, plays an important role in SIC.
PMCID: PMC3467398  PMID: 23000580
Akt/protein kinase B; cardioprotection; ischemia-reperfusion injury; mechanical stretching
19.  Contribution of Nitric Oxide Synthase (NOS) Activity in Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption and Edema after Acute Ischemia/ Reperfusion in Aortic Coarctation-Induced Hypertensive Rats 
Iranian Biomedical Journal  2011;15(1-2):22-30.
Background: Nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity is increased during hypertension and cerebral ischemia. NOS inactivation reduces stroke-induced cerebral injuries, but little is known about its role in blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption and cerebral edema formation during stroke in acute hypertension. Here, we investigated the role of NOS inhibition in progression of edema formation and BBB disruptions provoked by ischemia/reperfusion injuries in acute hypertensive rats. Methods: Rats were made acutely hypertensive by aortic coarctation. After 7 days, the rats were randomly selected for the recording of carotid artery pressure, or regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) using laser Doppler. Ishcemia induced by 60-min middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO), followed by 12-h reperfusion. A single i.p. dose of L-NAME (1 mg/kg) was injected before MCAO. After evaluation of neurological disabilities, rats were slaughtered under deep anesthesia to assess cerebral infarction volume, edema, or BBB disruption. Results: A 75-85% reduction in rCBF was occurred during MCAO which returned to pre-occluded levels during reperfusion. Profound neurological disabilities were evidenced after MCAO alongside with severe cerebral infarctions (628 ± 98 mm3), considerable edema (4.05 ± 0.52%) and extensive BBB disruptions (Evans blue extravasation, 8.46 ± 2.03 µg/g). L-NAME drastically improved neurological disabilities, diminished cerebral infarction (264 ± 46 mm3), reduced edema (1.49 ± 0.47%) and BBB disruption (2.93 ± 0.66 µg/g). Conclusion: The harmful actions of NOS activity on cerebral microvascular integrity are intensified by ischemia/reperfusion injuries during acute hypertension. NOS inactivation by L-NAME preserved this integrity and diminished cerebral edema.
PMCID: PMC3639734  PMID: 21725496
Acute hypertension; Ischemia/reperfusion injury; Nitric oxide synthase (NOX); L-NAME; Blood-brain barrier (BBB)
20.  Docosahexaenoic Acid Signaling Modulates Cell Survival in Experimental Ischemic Stroke Penumbra and Initiates Long-Term Repair in Young and Aged Rats 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46151.
Docosahexaenoic acid, a major omega-3 essential fatty acid family member, improves behavioral deficit and reduces infarct volume and edema after experimental focal cerebral ischemia. We hypothesize that DHA elicits neuroprotection by inducing AKT/p70S6K phosphorylation, which in turn leads to cell survival and protects against ischemic stroke in young and aged rats.
Methods and Results
Rats underwent 2 h of middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAo). DHA, neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1) or vehicle (saline) was administered 3 h after onset of stroke. Neurological function was evaluated on days 1, 2, 3, and 7. DHA treatment improved functional recovery and reduced cortical, subcortical and total infarct volumes 7 days after stroke. DHA also reduced microglia infiltration and increased the number of astrocytes and neurons when compared to vehicle on days 1 and 7. Increases in p473 AKT and p308 AKT phosphorylation/activation were observed in animals treated with DHA 4 h after MCAo. Activation of other members of the AKT signaling pathway were also observed in DHA treated animals including increases in pS6 at 4 h and pGSK at 24 h. DHA or NPD1 remarkably reduced total and cortical infarct in aged rats. Moreover, we show that in young and aged rats DHA treatment after MCAo potentiates NPD1 biosynthesis. The phosphorylation of p308 AKT or pGSK was not different between groups in aged rats. However, pS6 expression was increased with DHA or NPD1 treatment when compared to vehicle.
We suggest that DHA induces cell survival, modulates the neuroinflammatory response and triggers long term restoration of synaptic circuits. Both DHA and NPD1 elicited remarkable protection in aged animals. Accordingly, activation of DHA signaling might provide benefits in the management of ischemic stroke both acutely as well as long term to limit ensuing disabilities.
PMCID: PMC3484151  PMID: 23118851
21.  Delayed Postconditioning Protects against Focal Ischemic Brain Injury in Rats 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(12):e3851.
We and others have reported that rapid ischemic postconditioning, interrupting early reperfusion after stroke, reduces infarction in rats. However, its extremely short therapeutic time windows, from a few seconds to minutes after reperfusion, may hinder its clinical translation. Thus, in this study we explored if delayed postconditioning, which is conducted a few hours after reperfusion, offers protection against stroke.
Methods and Results
Focal ischemia was generated by 30 min occlusion of bilateral common carotid artery (CCA) combined with permanent occlusion of middle cerebral artery (MCA); delayed postconditioning was performed by repetitive, brief occlusion and release of the bilateral CCAs, or of the ipsilateral CCA alone. As a result, delayed postconditioning performed at 3h and 6h after stroke robustly reduced infarct size, with the strongest protection achieved by delayed postconditioning with 6 cycles of 15 min occlusion/15 min release of the ipsilateral CCA executed from 6h. We found that this delayed postconditioning provided long-term protection for up to two months by reducing infarction and improving outcomes of the behavioral tests; it also attenuated reduction in 2-[18F]-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG)-uptake therefore improving metabolism, and reduced edema and blood brain barrier leakage. Reperfusion in ischemic stroke patients is usually achieved by tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) application, however, t-PA's side effect may worsen ischemic injury. Thus, we tested whether delayed postconditioning counteracts the exacerbating effect of t-PA. The results showed that delayed postconditioning mitigated the worsening effect of t-PA on infarction.
Delayed postconditioning reduced ischemic injury after focal ischemia, which opens a new research avenue for stroke therapy and its underlying protective mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC2588536  PMID: 19066627
22.  Misoprostol, an anti-ulcer agent and PGE2 receptor agonist, protects against cerebral ischemia 
Neuroscience letters  2008;438(2):210-215.
Induction of COX-2 activity in cerebral ischemia results in increased neuronal injury and infarct size. Recent studies investigating neurotoxic mechanisms of COX-2 demonstrate both toxic and paradoxically protective effects of downstream prostaglandin receptor signaling pathways. We tested whether misoprostol, a PGE2 receptor agonist that is utilized clinically as an anti-ulcer agent and signals through the protective PGE2 EP2, EP3, and EP4 receptors, would reduce brain injury in the murine middle cerebral artery occlusion–reperfusion (MCAO-RP) model. Administration of misoprostol, at the time of MCAO or 2 h after MCAO, resulted in significant rescue of infarct volume at 24 and 72 h. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated dynamic regulation of the EP2 and EP4 receptors during reperfusion in neurons and endothelial cells of cerebral cortex and striatum, with limited expression of EP3 receptor. EP3−/− mice had no significant changes in infarct volume compared to control littermates. Moreover, administration of misoprostol to EP3+/+ and EP3−/− mice showed similar levels of infarct rescue, indicating that misoprostol protection was not mediated through the EP3 receptor. Taken together, these findings suggest a novel function for misoprostol as a protective agent in cerebral ischemia acting via the PGE2 EP2 and/or EP4 receptors.
PMCID: PMC2621308  PMID: 18472336
Stroke; Misoprostol; Prostaglandin; PGE2; Cerebral ischemia
23.  Lithium facilitates apoptotic signaling induced by activation of the Fas death domain-containing receptor 
BMC Neuroscience  2004;5:20.
Lithium, a mood stabilizer widely used to treat bipolar disorder, also is a neuroprotectant, providing neurons protection from apoptosis induced by a broad spectrum of toxic conditions. A portion of this neuroprotection is due to lithium's inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3. The present investigation examined if the neuroprotection provided by lithium included apoptosis induced by stimulation of the death domain-containing receptor Fas.
Instead of providing protection, treatment with 20 mM lithium significantly increased apoptotic signaling induced by activation of Fas, and this occurred in both Jurkat cells and differentiated immortalized hippocampal neurons. Other inhibitors of glycogen synthase kinase-3, including 20 μM indirubin-3'-monoxime, 5 μM kenpaullone, and 5 μM rottlerin, also facilitated Fas-induced apoptotic signaling, indicating that the facilitation of apoptosis by lithium was due to inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3.
These results demonstrate that lithium is not always a neuroprotectant, and it has the opposite effect of facilitating apoptosis mediated by stimulation of death domain-containing receptors.
PMCID: PMC420462  PMID: 15157283
24.  The Akt pathway is involved in rapid ischemic tolerance in focal ischemia in Rats 
Translational stroke research  2010;1(3):202-209.
Although the protective mechanisms of delayed ischemic preconditioning have received extensive studies, few have addressed the mechanisms associated with rapid ischemic postconditioning. We investigated whether ischemic tolerance induced by rapid preconditioning is regulated by the Akt survival signaling pathway. Stroke was generated by permanent occlusion of the left distal middle cerebral artery (MCA) plus 30 min or 1 h occlusion of the bilateral common carotid artery (CCA) in male rats. Rapid preconditioning performed 1h before stroke onset reduced infarct size by 69% in rats with 30 min CCA occlusion, but by only 19% with 1 h occlusion. After control ischemia with 30 min CCA occlusion, Western Blot showed that P-Akt was transiently increased while Akt kinase assay showed that Akt activity was decreased. Although preconditioning did not change P-Akt levels at 1h and 5h compared with control ischemia, it attenuated reduction in Akt activity at 5h in the penumbra. However, preconditioning did not change the levels of P-PDK1, P-PTEN, and P-GSK3β in the Akt pathway, all of which were decreased after stroke. At last, the PI3K kinase inhibitor, LY294002, completely reversed the protection from ischemic preconditioning. In conclusion, Akt contributes to the protection of rapid preconditionin against stroke.
PMCID: PMC3144475  PMID: 21804899
rapid preconditioning; ischemic tolerance; cerebral ischemia; focal ischemia; neuroprotection; Akt
25.  Inhibition of GSK3 by lithium, from single molecules to signaling networks 
For more than 60 years, the mood stabilizer lithium has been used alone or in combination for the treatment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and other mental illnesses. Despite this long history, the molecular mechanisms trough which lithium regulates behavior are still poorly understood. Among several targets, lithium has been shown to directly inhibit glycogen synthase kinase 3 alpha and beta (GSK3α and GSK3β). However in vivo, lithium also inhibits GSK3 by regulating other mechanisms like the formation of a signaling complex comprised of beta-arrestin 2 (βArr2) and Akt. Here, we provide an overview of in vivo evidence supporting a role for inhibition of GSK3 in some behavioral effects of lithium. We also explore how regulation of GSK3 by lithium within a signaling network involving several molecular targets and cell surface receptors [e.g., G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs)] may provide cues to its relative pharmacological selectivity and its effects on disease mechanisms. A better understanding of these intricate actions of lithium at a systems level may allow the rational development of better mood stabilizer drugs with enhanced selectivity, efficacy, and lesser side effects.
PMCID: PMC3282483  PMID: 22363263
lithium; glycogen synthase kinase 3; arrestin; Akt; mood stabilizer; bipolar disorder; pharmacology; protein-protein interactions

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