Stroke pathogenesis involves complex oxidative stress-related pathways. The nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) and heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1) pathways have been considered molecular targets in pharmacologic intervention for ischemic diseases. Andrographolide, a labdane diterpene, has received increasing attention in recent years because of its various pharmacologic activities. We determined that andrographolide modulates the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-Nrf2-HO-1 signaling cascade in primary cerebral endothelial cells (CECs) to provide positive protection against middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO)-induced ischemic stroke in rats. In the present study, andrographolide (10 μM) increased HO-1 protein and messenger RNA expressions, Nrf2 phosphorylation, and nuclear translocation in CECs, and these activities were disrupted by a p38 MAPK inhibitor, SB203580, but not by the extracellular signal-regulated kinase inhibitor PD98059 or c-Jun amino-terminal kinase inhibitor SP600125. Similar results were observed in confocal microscopy analysis. Moreover, andrographolide-induced Nrf2 and HO-1 protein expressions were significantly inhibited by Nrf2 small interfering RNA. Moreover, HO-1 knockdown attenuated the protective effect of andrographolide against oxygen-glucose deprivation-induced CEC death. Andrographolide (0.1 mg/kg) significantly suppressed free radical formation, blood-brain barrier disruption, and brain infarction in MCAO-insulted rats, and these effects were reversed by the HO-1 inhibitor zinc protoporphyrin IX. The mechanism is attributable to HO-1 activation, as directly evidenced by andrographolide-induced pronounced HO-1 expression in brain tissues, which was highly localized in the cerebral capillary. In conclusion, andrographolide increased Nrf2-HO-1 expression through p38 MAPK regulation, confirming that it provides protection against MCAO-induced brain injury. These findings provide strong evidence that andrographolide could be a therapeutic agent for treating ischemic stroke or neurodegenerative diseases.
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