Background and purpose: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) triggers a complex series of inflammatory responses that contribute to secondary tissue damage. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of baicalein, a flavonoid possessing potent anti-inflammatory properties, on functional and histological outcomes and inflammatory cytokine expression, following TBI in rats. Experimental approach: Rats subjected to controlled cortical impact injury were injected with baicalein (30 mg kg -1) or vehicle immediately after injury or daily for 4 days. Neurological status was evaluated using the rotarod, adhesive removal, modified neurological severity scores and beam walk tests. Contusion volume and neuronal degeneration were measured using cresyl violet and FluoroJade B (FJB) histochemistry. Levels of tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) mRNA and protein were assessed by real-time quantitative reverse transcriptase-PCR, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunohistochemistry. Key results: Single-dose and multiple-dose treatment with baicalein significantly improved functional recovery and reduced contusion volumes up to day 28 post-injury, although multiple-dose baicalein was the more effective treatment. Single-dose baicalein also significantly reduced the number of degenerating neurons (31%) on post-injury day 1 as indicated by FJB staining. These changes were associated with significantly decreased levels, at the contusion site, of TNF-α, IL-1β and IL-6 mRNA at 6 h, and cytokine protein on day 1 post-injury. Conclusions and implications: Post-injury treatment with baicalein improved functional and histological outcomes and reduced induction of proinflammatory cytokines in rat TBI. The neuroprotective effect of baicalein may be related to a decreased inflammatory response following the injury.
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