Basal ganglia injury after hypoxia-ischemia remains common in preterm infants, and is closely associated with later cerebral palsy. In the present study we tested the hypothesis that a highly selective neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) inhibitor, JI-10, would improve survival of striatal phenotypic neurons after profound asphyxia, and that the subsequent seizure burden and recovery of EEG are associated with neural outcome. 24 chronically instrumented preterm fetal sheep were randomized to either JI-10 (3 ml of 0.022 mg/ml, n = 8) or saline (n = 8) infusion 15 min before 25 min complete umbilical cord occlusion, or saline plus sham-occlusion (n = 8). Umbilical cord occlusion was associated with reduced numbers of calbindin-28k-, GAD-, NPY-, PV-, Calretinin- and nNOS-positive striatal neurons (p < 0.05 vs. sham occlusion) but not ChAT-positive neurons. JI-10 was associated with increased numbers of calbindin-28k-, GAD-, nNOS-, NPY-, PV-, Calretinin- and ChAT-positive striatal neurons (p < 0.05 vs. saline + occlusion). Seizure burden was strongly associated with loss of calbindin-positive cells (p < 0.05), greater seizure amplitude was associated with loss of GAD-positive cells (p < 0.05), and with more activated microglia in the white matter tracts (p < 0.05). There was no relationship between EEG power after 7 days recovery and total striatal cell loss, but better survival of NPY-positive neurons was associated with lower EEG power. In summary, these findings suggest that selective nNOS inhibition during asphyxia is associated with protection of phenotypic striatal projection neurons and has potential to help reduce basal ganglia injury in some premature babies.
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