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Keywords:

  • behavior;
  • cultured neurons;
  • mouse;
  • neuroinflammation;
  • stroke

Abstract

Consumption of flavan-3-ols, notably (−)-epicatechin (EC), has been highly recommended in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) due to reports that flavan-3-ols boost antioxidant activity, support vascular function, and prevent cardiovascular disease. To date, in vivo efficacy and mechanisms of action for many CAM therapies, including EC, remain elusive in brain ischemia. In contrast to its purported direct antioxidant role, we hypothesized protection through activation of the endogenous transcriptional factor Nrf2. To screen cellular protection and investigate Nrf2 activation, we adopted a pretreatment paradigm using enriched primary neuronal cultures from mice and washed out EC prior to oxygen glucose deprivation to attenuate direct antioxidant effects. EC protected primary neurons from oxygen glucose deprivation by increasing neuronal viability (40.2 ± 14.1%) and reducing protein oxidation, effects that occurred concomitantly with increased Nrf2-responsive antioxidant protein expression. We also utilized wildtype and Nrf2 C57BL/6 knockout mice in a permanent model of focal brain ischemia to evaluate glial cell regulation and complex sensorimotor functioning. EC-treated wildtype mice displayed a reduction or absence of forelimb motor coordination impairments that were evident in vehicle-treated mice. This protection was associated with reduced anatomical injury (54.5 ± 8.3%) and microglia/macrophage activation/recruitment (56.4 ± 13.0%). The protective effects elicited by EC in both model systems were abolished in tissues and neuronal cultures from Nrf2 knockout mice. Together, these data demonstrate EC protection through Nrf2 and extend the benefits to improved performance on a complex sensorimotor task, highlighting the potential of flavan-3-ols in CAM approaches in minimizing subsequent stroke injury.