Limb remote ischemic post‑conditioning reduces injury and improves long‑term behavioral recovery in rats following subarachnoid hemorrhage: Possible involvement of the autophagic process
- Xiang Hu
- Tao Lv
- Shao‑Feng Yang
- Xiao‑Hua Zhang
- Yi‑Feng Miao
- Published online on: October 24, 2017 https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2017.7858
Copyright: © Hu et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution License.
Aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is one of the most severe types of hemorrhage in the brain, with mortality rates ranging between 25 and 35% in developed countries, and up to 48% in developing countries (1). SAH leads to poor outcomes, particularly attributed to progressive brain injury following the initial hemorrhage. Early cerebral injury during the first few days following SAH has been recognized to be associated with increased mortality and morbidity among survivors (2). Further damage from SAH may occur following a 1–2 week delay, induced by vasospasm-associated ischemic injury (3). Therefore, it is important to administer effective treatment as early as possible following SAH to prevent ischemic injury. Limb remote ischemic post-conditioning (RIPostC) is a novel post-conditioning procedure which involves repeated occlusion/release cycles on bilateral limb arteries (4). Unlike classical pre- or post-ischemic conditioning, limb RIPostC is easily adaptable in clinical practice and particularly suitable for long term rehabilitation (5–7). Numerous studies have demonstrated that limb RIPostC improves neurological outcomes in ischemic animal models (5,8). However, there are few studies regarding the effect on hemorrhagic stroke and the mechanisms behind RIPostC.
Autophagy is an important cellular pathway for the degradation of intracellular macromolecules or organelles for subsequent reuse, which helps to maintain intracellular homeostasis of physiological conditions (9). Previous studies have suggested that autophagy is an important arbiter of cell death-survival decisions, by degrading harmful aggregates and organelles in inflammation, malignancy and neurodegeneration (10,11). Autophagy-lysosomal system activation is reported to be involved in SAH-induced brain injury (12). Certain studies have indicated that autophagy activation may exhibit a neuroprotective effect in SAH-associated injury (13,14).
Therefore, in the present study, the methodology of limb RIPostC was optimized with the aim of investigating the short and long term neuroprotective effects and possible role of autophagy activation in limb RIPostC, using a puncture rat model of SAH.
Materials and methods
Experimental animals and groups
All experiments were approved by the ethics committee of the Animal Care and Experimental Committee of the School of Medicine of Shanghai JiaoTong University (Shanghai, China). The animals were maintained on a 12-h light/dark cycle under controlled temperature conditions (22±2°C), and given standard food and water ad libitum. A total of 77 Sprague-Dawley male rats (obtained from the School of Medicine of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China), weighing between 260 and 300 g, were divided randomly into five weight-matched groups for the short-term experiments: Sham-operated (sham; n=12), SAH (n=18), SAH treated with early RIPostC (eRIPostC; n=16), SAH treated with delayed RIPostC (dRIPostC; n=16) and SAH treated with repeated RIPostC (rRIPostC; n=15). For the long-term experiments, a total of 48 rats were assigned to three groups: Sham-operated (sham; n=12), SAH (n=20) and daily repeated RIPostC (RIPostC; n=16). Prior to surgery, all rats fasted for 72 h with free access to water. A total of 14 rats which succumbed to the surgery, and 12 rats which succumbed during the month following surgery, were discarded from the present study.
Rat model of SAH and RIPostC
Rats were anesthetized by mechanical ventilation with 2% isoflurane in oxygen (2:1) and received a subcutaneous injection of Marcaine (2 mg/kg; Sigma-Aldrich; Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany) to provide topical analgesia prior to incision. During the operation, a temperature-controlled heating pad was used to maintain the rectal temperature at 37.5°C. SAH was induced using endovascular perforation on the internal carotid artery (ICA) bifurcation with a sharpened monofilament 4–0 nylon suture as described by Bederson et al (15). Following exposure of the left carotid artery and its branches, it was transected distally and fashioned into a stump. The suture was advanced into the left ICA through the common carotid bifurcation and further advanced into the left intracranial ICA until resistance was felt, ~18–20 mm from the common carotid artery bifurcation. The suture was further advanced for ~3 mm to perforate the circle of Willis, and withdrawn after ~15 sec. The ICA was subsequently re-perfused. Sham-operated rats underwent the same procedure, except that the suture was removed once resistance was felt without puncture. Cerebral blood flow was measured prior and subsequent to SAH using a PR407-1 straight needle LDF-probe (Perimed, Järfälla, Sweden) connected to a standard laser Doppler monitor (PF5010 LDPM Unit and PF5001 main unit; Perimed). SAH was confirmed by cerebral blood flow detection and autopsy in each rat. All animals were allowed to recover following surgery and housed individually until euthanasia. In the RIPostC groups, limb RIPostC was carried out by three cycles of 10 min occlusion/10 min release of the bilateral femoral artery using an aneurysm clip at 0 min (early RIPostC) and 30 min (delayed RIPostC) of SAH. For rRIPostC, all rats were subjected to 3 cycles of 10 min occlusion/10 min release every day for 3 days. For the long-term study, the limb RIPostC was performed every day for 1 month. The methodology of limb RIPostC in each group is presented in Fig. 1A.
The effect of rRIPostC on bleeding and vasospasm. (A) The schematic protocol for limb RIPostC. Limb RIPostC was performed with three cycles of 10 min occlusion (black rectangles)/10 min release on the bilateral femoral artery using an aneurysm clip. According to the methodology of post-conditioning, RIPostC rats were divided into early RIPostC (start at 0 min), delayed RIPostC (start at 30 min), repeated RIPostC (days 0, 1, and 2) and long term RIPostC (undergo three cycles every day for 1 month). (B) SAH score: Sham, 0; SAH, 12.57±2.50; eRIPostC, 13.01±1.56; dRIPostC, 13.25±1.71; and rRIPostC, 12.25±1.93. (C) Hematoxylin-eosin histological analysis: Sham, 0.48±0.02; SAH, 0.37±0.05; eRIPostC, 0.31±0.06; dRIPostC 0.35±0.07; and rRIPostC, 0.35±0.03. eRIPostC, early remote ischemic post-conditioning; dRIPostC, delayed RIPostC; rRIPostC, repeated RIPostC; SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage.
The extent of SAH in all animals was evaluated as described previously by Sugawara et al (16), 72 h following surgery. Following removal of the brain, an image of the basal cistern was captured and it was divided into 6 parts (left and right frontal, left and right temporal, and upper and lower brain stem). Depending on the prevalence of subarachnoid blood clots, each segment was given a grade from 0 to 3 as follows: Grade 0, no subarachnoid blood clotting; grade 1, minimal subarachnoid blood clotting; grade 2, moderate blood clotting with recognizable arteries; and grade 3, blood clotting obliterating all arteries within the segment. The total score (maximum, 18) was calculated as the sum of all of the sub-scores.
Brain water content
At 72 h post-SAH, rats were euthanized and brains were harvested. Each left hemisphere, right hemisphere, cerebellum and brain stem, were separated and weighed immediately (wet weight), and subsequent to drying at 100°C for 72 h (dry weight). The percentage water content was calculated as: [(Wet weight-dry weight)/wet weight]x100.
Neurological evaluation and behavior tests
Neurological scores were evaluated prior to euthanasia in a blinded fashion at 72 h, with a previously-described 18-point scoring system for assessing sensorimotor deficits. There were six categories in the assessment, including spontaneous activity, symmetrical movements of limbs, forelimb outstretching, climbing a wall of a wire cage, axillary touch response and vibrissae touch response. The worst score was 0 and the best was 3 for each subtest, and the total score was calculated from all of the subtests. Beam walking and grid walking were applied to evaluate motor function following SAH. A 0–6 grading beam walking test was used to assess ability to walk across and maintain balance on a beam (2.5×2.5×80 cm). The response scores were assigned as follows: Score 0, traversed the beam with no foot slip; score 1, traversed with grasping of the lateral side of the beam; score 2, exhibited difficulty crawling across the beam, although able to traverse; score 3, required >10 sec to traverse the beam due to difficulty in walking; score 4, unable to traverse the beam; score 5, unable to move the body or any limb on the beam; and score 6, unable to stay on the beam for >10 sec. Grid walking ability was assessed by placing the animal on a stainless steel grid floor (20×40 cm, with a mesh size of 2×2 cm). The total number of steps was counted to a maximum of 50 steps. The number of foot fault errors was defined as the frequency of misplacement of a forelimb or hind limb through the grid floor.
Long term neurological function, including motor coordination and learning, was measured using an accelerating rotarod (San Diego Instruments, Inc., San Diego, CA, USA). Between days 1 and 9, each rat was placed on the 2.75 cm-diameter rod for training. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th days were testing days. The time for which each rat was able to remain on the rotating rod before falling was measured. The maximum duration was 300 sec. All of the tests were repeated three times in a blinded fashion.
Morris water maze (MWM) test
Rats were tested for spatial learning and memory in the MWM test. The MWM consisted of a circular tank measuring 1.5 m in diameter, with the water temperature maintained at ~21°C and made opaque using non-toxic white paint powder (Reeves & Poole, North York, ON, Canada) on the surface. Four points around the edge of the pool were arbitrarily designated as north (N), south (S), east (E) and west (W), allowing the apparatus to be divided into four corresponding quadrants (NE, SE, NW and SW). A transparent Plexiglas escape platform was submerged ~2 cm below the water surface and placed in the NE quadrant of the maze. Extra-maze cues consisted of laboratory furniture and lights (kept constant throughout the experiment). A video camera was mounted above the center of the pool and all performance was recorded for subsequent analyses. Rats were given 3 trials/day for each of 5 test days (120 sec trial, 120 sec inter-trial interval during which time the rat remained on the escape platform). If the rat did not find the escape platform within the allotted time, it was guided to the finish by the experimenter. Escape latencies and intertribal behavior were recorded by observers who were blind to the experimental treatment.
Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL)-DAPI staining
In order to detect DNA fragmentation in degenerating neurons, animals were sacrificed 3 days subsequent to reperfusion, and coronal sections (5 µm) of freshly-frozen rat brain were cut using a cryotome. The TUNEL assay was carried out, according to the manufacturer's protocol (Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Mannheim, Germany). The sections were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde for 20 min at room temperature and permeabilized using 0.1% Triton X-100 (Sigma-Aldrich; Merck KGaA) and 0.1% sodium citrate for 2 min at 4°C. Each slide was incubated with 50 µl TUNEL reaction mixture at 37°C for 1 h. Slides were mounted with DAPI (Invitrogen; Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., Waltham, MA, USA). Images were viewed under an ECLIPSE Ti fluorescence microscope (Nikon Corporation, Tokyo, Japan) and captured using a CoolSNAP camera (Photometrics, Tucson, AZ, USA). TUNEL-positive cells were photographed at ×100 magnification, at 3 fields close to the infarct border. Apoptotic cells were quantitatively evaluated by diagnostic software NIS-Elements BR (version 3.2; Nikon Corporation).
Hematoxylin and eosin staining for vessel lumen measurement
Brain sections were cut every 10 µm over the SAH affected area, including the circle of Willis and basilar arteries, and were stained with hematoxylin (10 min at room temperature) and eosin (2 min at room temperature). Histological photographs were captured using a microscope camera at ×400 magnification. In order to determine the degree of vasospasm, the ratio of luminal diameter to total arterial diameter was measured using Image-Pro Plus software (version 6.0; Media Cybernetics, Inc., Rockville, MD, USA). Five measurements per rat were taken, and the mean score was calculated; the mean values of all of the rats in each group were used to calculate the group mean.
Western blotting analysis for the detection of autophagy
The frozen brain samples were mechanically lysed in 20 mM Tris (pH 7.6), containing 0.2% SDS, 1% Triton X-100, 1% deoxycholate, 1 mM phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride, and 0.11 IU/ml aprotinin (all Sigma-Aldrich; Merck KGaA). The lysates were centrifuged at 12,000 × g for 20 min at 4°C. The protein concentration was estimated using the Bradford method with a Nanjing Jiancheng protein assay kit (Nanjing Jiancheng Bioengineering Institute, Nanjing, China). The samples (60 µg/lane) were separated by SDS-PAGE on an 8% gel and electro-transferred onto a polyvinylidene fluoride membrane (Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc., Hercules, CA, USA). The membrane was blocked with 5% skimmed milk for 2 h at room temperature and incubated overnight with primary antibodies against LC-3 (cat. no. 12741; 1:200) and Beclin-1 (cat. no. 3495; 1:150) (both Cell Signaling Technology, Inc., Danvers, MA, USA) at 4°C. GAPDH (diluted 1:6,000; Sigma-Aldrich; Merck KGaA) was used as the loading control. The membrane was washed six times in PBS with Tween-20 (PBST) for 10 min, and was subsequently incubated at room temperature for 2 h with horseradish peroxidase-conjugated secondary antibody (1:400; cat. no. 7074; Cell Signaling Technology, Inc.). The blotted protein bands were visualized by enhanced chemiluminescence western blot detection reagents (GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences, Pittsburgh, PA, USA) and exposed to X-ray film. The developed films were digitized using an Epson Perfection 2480 scanner (Epson, Nagano, Japan). The results were quantified using Quantity One Software (version 4.6.2; Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc.). The band density values were calculated as a ratio of light chain 3 (LC3)/actin or Beclin-1/actin.
Transmission election microscopy
Rat brain samples for electron microscopy were fixed in phosphate-buffered glutaraldehyde overnight at 4°C (2.5%; Sigma-Aldrich; Merck KGaA) and osmium tetroxide at room temperature for 2 h (1%; Sigma-Aldrich; Merck KGaA). Dehydration of the cortex was accomplished in acetone solutions at increasing concentrations. The tissue was embedded in an epoxy resin. Semi-thin (1 µm) sections through the sample were stained with toluidine blue (30 min at room temperature). Sections of 0.06 µm were created from a selected area of tissue defined by the semi-thin section, and these were stained with lead citrate and uranyl acetate at room temperature for 1 h. The ultrastructure of the brain was observed under a transmission electron microscope (JEM-1200X; JEOL USA, Inc., Peabody, MA, USA).
All data are presented as the mean ± standard deviation. The statistical significance was examined using analysis of variance, followed by Student's t-test and post-hoc Fisher's tests. P<0.05 was considered to indicate a statistically significant difference. The statistical software SPSS (version 13.0; SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) was used for the statistical analyses.
Repeated limb RIPostC decreases brain edema, and exhibits no effect on bleeding and vasospasm
On the 3rd day post-surgery, the rats were sacrificed and images were taken of the base of the brain in order to calculate the scale of SAH (Fig. 1B). The SAH score demonstrated that none of the limb RIPostC groups exhibited a notable effect on bleeding. Hematoxylin-eosin histological analysis was performed to detect the vasodilative effect of RIPostC (Fig. 1C). The ratio of luminal diameter to total arterial diameter did not notably alter among all limb RIPostC groups.
A total of four parts of the brain, including left hemisphere, right hemisphere, cerebellum and brain stem, were analyzed for brain edema using the drying procedure described above (Fig. 2). It was observed that only repeated limb RIPostC was able to decrease brain edema compared with the other groups, and only in the left hemisphere.
Quantitative evaluation of brain edema in different treatment groups. Repeated RIPostC decreases the percentage of water content in the left hemisphere. (A) Left hemisphere. (B) Right hemisphere. (C) Cerebellum. (D) Brain stem. Data are presented as the mean ± standard deviation. n=8. *P<0.05 vs. other treatment groups. eRIPostC, early remote ischemic post-conditioning; dRIPostC, delayed RIPostC; rRIPostC, repeated RIPostC; SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage.
Repeated limb RIPostC improves the short-term neurological evaluation scales and motor function of SAH model rats
An 18-point score system was used to assess short-term sensorimotor deficits on days 0, 1, 2 and 3 following SAH. Compared with the other groups, the score of the rRIPostC group was significantly increased on day 3, indicating that it was able to alleviate short-term neurological deficits (Fig. 3A).
Effect of rRIPostC on neurological and behavioral evaluation. (A) Neurological scores. rRIPostC alleviated short-term neurological deficits. (B) Beam walking test and (C) grid walking scores. rRIPostC improved short-term motor function. The data are presented as the mean ± standard deviation. n=8. *P<0.05 and #P<0.01 vs. other treatment groups. eRIPostC, early remote ischemic post-conditioning; dRIPostC, delayed RIPostC; rRIPostC, repeated RIPostC; SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage.
Short-term motor function was assessed using beam walking and grid walking tests on days 0, 1, 2 and 3 following SAH (Fig. 3B and C). The beam walking test (sham group, 1.56±0.14; SAH group, 4.25±0.13; eRIPostC group, 4.37±0.24; dRIPostC group, 4.50±0.25; and rRIPostC group, 2.12±0.18) and grid walking scores (sham group, 5.62±1.68; SAH group, 22.85±4.46; eRIPostC group, 22.75±3.15; dRIPostC group, 21.12±2.10; and rRIPostC group, 8.37±2.12) indicated that repeated limb RIPostC was able to improve short-term motor function.
Repeated limb RIPostC protects neurons from apoptotic cell death following SAH injury
The TUNEL assay was carried out to detect neuronal apoptosis on day 3 following SAH. TUNEL-positive cells (green) were observed at ×100 magnification, at 3 fields close to the infarct border. All groups except sham exhibited neuronal apoptosis. TUNEL-positive cells of all RIPostC groups were reduced compared with the SAH group. Quantitative analysis demonstrated that repeated limb RIPostC was able to prevent neuronal apoptosis (Fig. 4).
TUNEL assay analysis of the cortex at 3 days following SAH. All groups except the sham exhibited neuronal apoptosis. TUNEL-positive cells (green) of all RIPostC groups were decreased compared with the SAH group. (A) Sham group, 6.22±1.28; (B) SAH group, 477.77±21.23; (C) eRIPostC group, 361.11±17.73; (D) dRIPostC group, 352.34±15.56; (E) rRIPostC group, 162.23±12.22. (F) Quantitative analysis demonstrated that the number of TUNEL-positive cells in the rRIPostC group decreased, suggesting that rRIPostC was able to protect neurons from apoptosis. *P<0.05. SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage; eRIPostC, early remote ischemic post-conditioning; dRIPostC, delayed RIPostC; rRIPostC, repeated RIPostC; TUNEL, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling.
Repeated limb RIPostC promotes autophagy in the brain cortex following SAH injury
In order to investigate the extent of autophagic activation, the autophagy-related proteins Beclin-1 and LC3 I/II were detected using western blot analysis (Fig. 5). In the sham group, little protein was detected. SAH was able to increase the protein level of Beclin-1 and LC3. Following RIPostC treatment, only repeated limb RIPostC increased the Beclin-l level (Fig. 5A and B). Delayed and repeated limb RIPostC increased the level of LC3 I/II (Fig. 5A, C and D).
Extent of autophagic activation in the brain cortex following SAH injury. (A) Expression of autophagy-related proteins Beclin-1 and LC3-I/II was observed using western blotting. (B) The expression of Beclin-1 was increased in rRIPostC compared with other groups. dRIPostC and rRIPostC increased the (C) LC3-I and (D) LC3-II level. Data are presented as the mean ± standard deviation. n=4. *P<0.05 vs. other groups, &P<0.05 vs. sham SAH and eRIPostC groups. SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage; eRIPostC, early remote ischemic post-conditioning; dRIPostC, delayed RIPostC; rRIPostC, repeated RIPostC; LC3, light chain 3.
Ultrastructural alterations were observed using transmission election microscopy (Fig. 6). Neurons and glial cells in the sham group appeared healthy with normal endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, lysosomes and nucleus (Fig. 6A). SAH injury induced accumulation of autophagosomes and autolysosomes, and mitochondrial swelling (Fig. 6B). The number of autolysosomes in the SAH group was significantly increased compared with rats in the sham group (P<0.05; Fig. 6B and F). The eRIPostC and dRIPostC treatment group exhibited the same effect on the autolysosomes (Fig. 6C and D); however, rRIPostC further upregulated the number of autolysosomes compared with the SAH group (P<0.01; Fig. 6E and F).
Effect of RIPostC on autophagic ultrastructural alterations. The organelles appear healthy in the sham group. The number of autolysosomes was upregulated in all RIPostC groups, with the largest increase in the rRIPostC group. (A) Sham group; (B) SAH group; (C) eRIPostC group; (D) dRIPostC group; (E) rRIPostC group. (F) Quantitative analysis demonstrated that rRIPostC was able to further upregulate the number of autolysosomes compared with the other groups. #P<0.01 vs. other groups. SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage; eRIPostC, early remote ischemic post-conditioning; dRIPostC, delayed RIPostC; rRIPostC, repeated RIPostC.
Repeated limb RIPostC improves long-term behavior and memory recovery following SAH injury
All rats learned the rotarod test and plateaued at day 9 (Fig. 7A). Sham rats exhibited similar rotarod performance on day 28 post-testing, indicating that the rats had achieved maximum performance prior to surgery and that sham surgery did not affect their ability to perform the rotarod task. However, a decrease in rotarod performance was observed in the SAH and rRIPostC groups on day 3 following SAH. The rRIPostC treatment rats exhibited a better recovery compared with the SAH group. On day 14 following SAH, the rRIPostC group manifested a markedly improved performance in the rotarod test compared with the SAH group (Fig. 7A).
Effect of rRIPostC on long-term behavior and memory recovery following SAH injury. (A) Rotarod test. The SAH and rRIPostC groups exhibited a decrease in rotarod performance 3 days following SAH. However, rRIPostC-treated rats exhibited an improved recovery 2 weeks following SAH injury. (B) Morris water maze test. The SAH and rRIPostC groups exhibited a delay in finding the platform following SAH. The rats receiving rRIPostC treatment exhibited memory recovery. *P<0.05 and #P<0.01 vs. SAH group. SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage; rRIPostC, repeated remote ischemic post-conditioning.
For the Morris water maze test, all of the rats were able to find the escape platform on day 5. The sham rats maintained the ability to find the platform on day 28 post-surgery, demonstrating that the rats had achieved good memory prior to surgery and that sham surgery exerted no effect on the memory. Following SAH injury, the rats in the SAH and RIPostC groups exhibited impaired memory, and exhibited no amelioration during the first two weeks post-surgery. However, following two weeks of repeated limb RIPostC treatment, the rats exhibited a significant recovery of memory compared with the SAH group (P<0.05 in week 3, P<0.01 in week 4 vs. SAH group; Fig. 7B).
Repeated limb RIPostC maintains active autophagy for 1 month following SAH injury
The accumulation of autolysosomes in the SAH group decreased to a level which was equal to that of the sham group on day 28 following SAH. However, the number of autolysosomes in the rRIPostC group remained significantly increased compared with the SAH and sham groups (P<0.01; Fig. 8).
rRIPostC maintains active autophagy 1 month following SAH injury. (A) Sham group. The organelles appear healthy at 1 month following surgery. (B) SAH group. Few autolysosomes were observed 1 month following SAH. (C) rRIPostC group. The number of autolysosomes remained increased 1 month following injury. (D) Quantitative analysis demonstrated that rRIPostC was able to activate long-term autophagy compared with other groups. #P<0.01 vs. other groups. SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage; rRIPostC, repeated remote ischemic post-conditioning.
The results of the present study demonstrated that repeated RIPostC: i) Induces neuroprotective effects against SAH-associated injury; ii) improves long-term neurological function and memory recovery in rats; iii) markedly upregulates Beclin-1 and LC3 in the cortex; iv) significantly increases the number of autolysosomes; and v) activates autophagy, which may be maintained for 1 month.
Aneurysmal SAH is among the most important and common causes for disability and mortality. Survivors may suffer from a variety of difficulties, including sensory disturbance, dyskinesia, memory impairment and emotional problems, following the early brain injury and subsequent ischemic injury (17). Although numerous treatments have been performed, inducing neuroprotection remains a challenge. A number of the pharmacological therapies are ineffective, or lead to side effects. Consequently, the activation of endogenous neuroprotection may be a promising strategy.
Brain ischemic conditioning has been recognized as an effective therapeutic strategy to induce endogenous neuroprotection. The protective stimulus may be applied prior to (ischemic preconditioning) (18) or following (ischemic post-conditioning) (19) the onset of disease. Compared with preconditioning, post-conditioning, including delayed post-conditioning, pharmacological post-conditioning and remote post-conditioning, is more adaptable. However, previous research has paid more attention to rapid or local ischemic post-conditioning, and the underlying protective mechanisms of remote post-conditioning remain unclear.
Remote post-conditioning is induced by cycles of occlusion and release on a limb artery. Previous studies demonstrated that limb RIPostC is able to improve neurological function, reduce infarct size and attenuate brain edema in ischemic stroke animal models; this indicates that limb RIPostC may be an efficacious neuroprotective strategy, and more amenable to clinical translation compared with RIPostC on the common carotid artery or other remote organs (20–22). However, few studies have demonstrated the effect of limb RIPostC on hemorrhagic stroke, including SAH. Several neuroprotective strategies have been observed to exhibit only transient effects (22,23). Due to stroke-induced continued neurological injury, assessment of long-term outcome is essential. Therefore, in the present study, the methodology of limb RIPostC was optimized in order to examine the short and long term effects, and investigate the underlying mechanisms, in an SAH rat model. The present study demonstrated that early limb RIPostC and delayed limb RIPostC exert no notable effect on injury following SAH, which is contrary to certain previous reports (5,24). It is hypothesized that this discrepancy between the present study and previous studies may result from the different RIPostC protocol and observation time window used in the present study. Additionally, dRIPostC may serve a protective role through other mechanisms (25). The results of the present study demonstrated that dRIPostC increased LC3, although the specific mechanisms require further investigation. Therefore, in the present study, repeated RIPostC was investigated and the results indicated that it improved short and long term neurological function, and enhanced memory recovery in an SAH rat model.
The autophagic process may be involved in the neuroprotective effect of repeated RIPostC. Autophagy is a cellular self-clearance system, including the engulfment of cytoplasmic material and intracellular organelles within double-membrane vesicles. Lee et al (26) reported that the autophagy pathway served a role in SAH. There are two important biomarkers of autophagy: Beclin-1 and LC3. Beclin-1, the mammalian ortholog of yeast vacuolar protein sorting-associated protein 30, is involved in the regulation of autophagy, with numerous other proteins. LC3, the mammalian ortholog of yeast autophagy-related protein 8, is synthesized as pro-LC3 and cleaved to LC3-I by cysteine protease ATG4. Conversion between LC3-I and LC3-II is regarded as biochemical evidence of autophagosome formation. In the present study, autophagic biomarkers, including LC3 and Beclin-1, were observed to be upregulated simultaneously in the brain cortex following treatment with RIPostC. The LC3 and Beclin-1 were further upregulated in the rRIPostC group. Ultrastructural observations demonstrated that autolysosomes markedly increased in number 3 days subsequently, and were maintained for 1 month. The specific mechanism of autophagy activated by RIPostC remain unclear. Takagi et al (27) reported that adenosine 59-monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) was a positive regulator of autophagy. AMPK is a sensor of ATP, and is activated when the ratio of ATP/ADP is decreased during exercise, hypoxia, oxidative stress and glucose deprivation. Han et al (28) observed that limb RIPostC was able to activate autophagy by enhancing the phosphorylation of AMPK in myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury, demonstrating that RIPostC-induced AMPK served a role in the autophagic process. Additionally, Qi et al (29) demonstrated that limb RIPostC was able to increase the phosphorylation of protein kinase B (AKT) and glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β), to activate autophagy in cerebral ischemic rat models. The results of the present study also demonstrated that rRIPostC induced neuroprotection via the upregulation of autophagy; however, due to the specificity of the animal model, whether this was through the same pathway requires further investigation.
The most common pathological sequelae following diffuse or focal neurodegenerative injury are apoptosis and necrosis. Previous studies have emphasized a potential crosstalk between autophagy and apoptosis, and examined the cytoprotective function of autophagy via negative modulation of apoptosis (30–32). The interaction between Beclin-1 and apoptosis regulator Bcl-2 (Bcl-2)/Bcl-2-like protein 1 has been recognized as the possible mechanism. Beclin-1 is a novel Bcl-2-homology (BH)-3 domain-only protein, primarily located in cytoplasmic structures, including the endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria and the perinuclear membrane. Previous studies have investigated the possible mechanisms of the dissociation of Bcl-2 and Beclin-1, which is necessary for induction of autophagy. Beclin-1 is additionally a target of death-associated protein kinase (DAPK), a calcium/calmodulin-regulated Ser/Thr kinase. DAPK-mediated phosphorylation of Beclin-1 on Thr119 at the BH-3 domain promotes the dissociation of Beclin-1 from its inhibitor Bcl-2-family members, thereby activating Beclin-1 to induce autophagy. Previous studies have demonstrated that limb RIPostC is able to downregulate expression of caspase-3 via the autophagic process through the AKT signaling pathway, involving the targeting key molecules in autophagy, including mammalian target of rapamycin and phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (33,34). The results of the present study demonstrated that rRIPostC prevented neuronal apoptosis following SAH injury, and that autophagy may serve an important role.
In the present study, the short and long term neuroprotective effects of repeated limb RIPostC have been demonstrated in an endovascular puncture SAH rat model. Further investigations demonstrated that the neuroprotective and anti-apoptosis effect induced by repeated limb RIPostC may involve the autophagic process. However, the specific molecular mechanism requires further research.
In conclusion, the ability to reduce brain injury in the short and long term following SAH injury suggests that repeated limb RIPostC may be a promising noninvasive therapy. It is proposed that repeated limb RIPostC activates the autophagic pathway, which may modulate apoptosis and reduce cell loss in an endovascular puncture SAH rat model. Further investigation is required into the precise autophagy-associated mechanism. The ability to reduce long term injury and improve memory is promising for the potential translation of this treatment to clinical rehabilitation for hemorrhagic stroke.
The present study was supported by the National Nature Science Foundation (grant no. 81471333).
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