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Abstract

Hypoxic-ischemic brain injury in survivors of perinatal asphyxia is a frequently encountered clinical problem for which there is currently no effective therapy. Neurotrophins, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), can protect responsive neurons against cell death in some injury paradigms. While the role of BDNF in hypoxic-ischemic brain injury is not clear, evidence suggests that BDNF may have different effects in the developing, as opposed to the adult, brain. We found that a single intracerebroventricular (ICV) injection of BDNF resulted in rapid and robust phosphorylation of trk receptors in multiple brain regions in the postnatal day (PD) 7 rat brain. BDNF also markedly protected against hypoxic-ischemic brain injury at PD7. It protected against 90% of tissue loss due to hypoxic-ischemia when given just prior to the insult and against 50% of tissue loss when give after the insult. In contrast, ICV injection of BDNF in PD21 and adult rats resulted in little trk phosphorylation and less dramatic protection against unilateral hypoxic-ischemic injury at PD21. Because of its potent neuroprotective actions in the developing brain, BDNF may be a potential treatment for asphyxia and other forms of acute injury in the perinatal period.