Our previous studies demonstrated that simvastatin promotes neurological functional recovery after traumatic brain injury (TBI) in rat; however, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to investigate the anti-inflammatory effect of simvastatin by measuring the level of cytokines and activation of glial cells.
Controlled cortical impact injury was performed in adult male Wistar rats. The rats were randomly divided into three groups: sham, saline control group and simvastatin treatment group. Simvastatin was administered orally starting at day 1 after TBI until sacrifice. Animals were sacrificed at 1, 3, 7, 14, and 35 days after treatment. Functional outcome was measured using modified neurological severity scores (mNSS). ELISA and immunohistochemical staining were employed to measure the expression of IL-1β, IL-6 and TNF-α, and to identify activated microglia and astrocytes.
At days 1 and 3 after simvastatin or saline treatment, cytokine levels in the lesion boundary zone were significantly higher in the simvastatin-treated rats and saline-treated rats compared to the sham group, peaking at day 3. Simvastatin only reduced the level of IL-1 β but not IL-6 and TNF-α compared with the saline group. Also, simvastatin reduced significantly the number of activated microglia and astrocytes compared to the saline control animals. There was also a trend towards improvement of mNSS score, reaching statistical significance (P=0.003) towards the end of the trial.
Our data demonstrate that TBI causes inflammatory reaction, including increased levels of IL-1β, IL-6 and TNF-α, as well as activated microglia. Simvastatin selectively reduces IL-1β expression and inhibits the activation of microglia and astrocytes after TBI, which may be one of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic benefits of simvastatin treatment of TBI.