Hypoxic Preconditioning and Hypoxic-Ischemic Brain Damage in the Immature Rat: Pathologic and Metabolic Correlates


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. R. C. Vannucci at Department of Pediatrics, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, P.O. Box 850, Hershey, PA 17033-0850, U.S.A.


Abstract: It has been reported that immature rats subjected to cerebral hypoxia-ischemia sustain less brain damage if they are previously exposed to systemic hypoxia compared with animals not exposed to prior hypoxia. Accordingly, neuropathologic and metabolic experiments were conducted to confirm and extend the observation that hypoxic preconditioning protects the perinatal brain from subsequent hypoxic-ischemic brain damage. Six-day postnatal rats were subjected to systemic hypoxia with 8% oxygen at 37°C for 2.5 h. Twenty-four hours later, they were exposed to unilateral cerebral hypoxia-ischemia for 2.5 h, produced by unilateral common carotid artery ligation and systemic hypoxia with 8% oxygen. Neuropathologic analysis, conducted at 30 days of postnatal age, indicated a substantial reduction in the severity of brain damage in the preconditioned rats, such that only 6 of 14 such animals exhibited cystic infarction, but all 13 animals without prior preconditioning exhibited infarction (p < 0.001). Measurement of cerebral glycolytic and tricarboxylic acid intermediates and high-energy phosphate reserves at the terminus of and at 4 and 24 h following hypoxia-ischemia showed no differences in the extent of alterations in the preconditioned and nonpreconditioned immature rats. A difference was seen in the restitution of high-energy stores during the first 24 h of recovery from hypoxia-ischemia, with a more optimal preservation of these metabolites in the preconditioned animals, reflecting the less severe ultimate brain damage. Accordingly, the neuroprotection afforded to the preconditioned animals was not the result of any differences in the extent of anaerobic glycolysis, tissue acidosis, or depletion in high-energy reserves during hypoxia-ischemia but rather the result of other mechanisms that improved the metabolic status of the immature brain during the early hours of reperfusion following hypoxia-ischemia.