International journal of developmental neuroscience : the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience

Environmental enrichment attenuates the blood brain barrier dysfunction induced by the neonatal hypoxia-ischemia.

PMID 27326908


Environmental enrichment (EE) is considered an efficient neuroprotector against neonatal hypoxia-ischemia (HI). Nevertheless, the mechanisms involved are not yet clear. In this context, the aim of this study was to investigate the effects of neonatal HI and environmental stimulation in the hippocampus of rats at 3 different time points (PND 8, 22 and 60), evaluating some aspects of BBB structure and function. Seven-day-old Wistar rats were divided into four groups: a control group maintained in a standard environment (CTSE), a control group maintained in an enrichment environment (CTEE), an HI group maintained in a standard environment (HISE) and an HI group maintained in an enrichment environment (HIEE). At the 7th postnatal day (PND), rats were submitted to the Levine-Rice model of neonatal HI. This method consists of permanent occlusion of the right common carotid artery with subsequent exposure to hypoxia. Rats from CTEE and HIEE were stimulated with environmental enrichment. The EE protocol started 24h after HI, in which pup rats with their dams were stimulated in a maintained EE (PND 8-22). Subsequently, animals were submitted to daily EE (1h/day, PND 23-60). The expression of some proteins involved in BBB structure (β-catenin, occludin, connexin-43, aquaporin-4, glut-1 and GFAP) were quantified by western blotting in the hippocampi of rats in three periods, at PND 8, 22 and 60. The BBB permeability and integrity was assessed by Evans blue staining and the immunohistochemistry for GFAP in the CA1 region of the hippocampus were also performed. The results showed an HI-induced decreased occludin expression at PND 22 and low levels of occludin, β-catenin and GFAP at PND 60 in the hippocampus of the hypoxic-ischemic rats. Interestingly, in young and adult rats, EE reversed these effects. Evans blue extravasation into the brain parenchyma confirmed the BBB dysfunction brought on by HI. No differences were observed at PND 8, probably due to the immaturity of the BBB at this age. The present study makes an important contribution to understanding the mechanism of the hypoxic-ischemic brain damage and also to presents, for the first time, the recovery of BBB dysfunction as a possible pathway for the protective effect of EE.