Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Neuronal apoptosis in the hippocampus has been detected after TBI. The hippocampal dysfunction may result in cognitive deficits in learning, memory, and spatial information processing. Our previous studies demonstrated that a p53 inhibitor, pifithrin-α oxygen analogue (PFT-α (O)), significantly reduced cortical cell death, which is substantial following controlled cortical impact (CCI) TBI, and improved neurological functional outcomes via anti-apoptotic mechanisms. In the present study, we examined the effect of PFT-α (O) on CCI TBI-induced hippocampal cellular pathophysiology in light of this brain region's role in memory. To investigate whether p53-dependent apoptosis plays a role in hippocampal neuronal loss and associated cognitive deficits and to define underlying mechanisms, SD rats were subjected to experimental CCI TBI followed by the administration of PFT-α or PFT-α (O) (2 mg/kg, i.v.) or vehicle at 5 h after TBI. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were acquired at 24 h and 7 days post-injury to assess evolving structural hippocampal damage. Fluoro-Jade C was used to stain hippocampal sub-regions, including CA1 and dentate gyrus (DG), for cellular degeneration. Neurological functions, including motor and recognition memory, were assessed by behavioral tests at 7 days post injury. p53, p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis (PUMA), 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE), cyclooxygenase-IV (COX IV), annexin V and NeuN were visualized by double immunofluorescence staining with cell-specific markers. Levels of mRNA encoding for caspase-3, p53, PUMA, Bcl-2, Bcl-2-associated X protein (BAX) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) were measured by RT-qPCR. Our results showed that post-injury administration of PFT-α and, particularly, PFT-α (O) at 5 h dramatically reduced injury volumes in the ipsilateral hippocampus, improved motor outcomes, and ameliorated cognitive deficits at 7 days after TBI, as evaluated by novel object recognition and open-field test. PFT-α and especially PFT-α (O) significantly reduced the number of FJC-positive cells in hippocampus CA1 and DG subregions, versus vehicle treatment, and significantly decreased caspase-3 and PUMA mRNA expression. PFT-α (O), but not PFT-α, treatment significantly lowered p53 and elevated SOD2 mRNA expression. Double immunofluorescence staining demonstrated that PFT-α (O) treatment decreased p53, annexin V and 4-HNE positive neurons in the hippocampal CA1 region. Furthermore, PUMA co-localization with the mitochondrial maker COX IV, and the upregulation of PUMA were inhibited by PFT-α (O) after TBI. Our data suggest that PFT-α and especially PFT-α (O) significantly reduce hippocampal neuronal degeneration, and ameliorate neurological and cognitive deficits in vivo via antiapoptotic and antioxidative properties.
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