Author(s): Nijboer CH, Bonestroo HJ, Zijlstra J, Kavelaars A, Heijnen CJ
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Abstract Neonatal encephalopathy is associated with high mortality and life-long developmental consequences. Therapeutic options are very limited. We assessed the effects of D-JNKi, a small peptide c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) MAP kinase inhibitor, on neuroinflammation, mitochondrial integrity and neuronal damage in a neonatal rat model of ischemic brain damage. Hypoxic-ischemic (HI) brain injury was induced in postnatal-day 7 rats by unilateral carotid artery occlusion and hypoxia, and was followed by intraperitoneal D-JNKi treatment. We demonstrate here for the first time that a single intraperitoneal injection with D-JNKi directly after HI strongly reduces neonatal brain damage by >85\% with a therapeutic window of at least 6h. D-JNKi treatment also restored cognitive and motor function as analyzed at 9weeks post-insult. Neuroprotective D-JNKi treatment inhibited phosphorylation of nuclear c-Jun (P-c-Jun), and consequently reduced activity of the AP-1 transcription factor and production of cerebral cytokines/chemokines as determined at 3 and 24h post-HI. Inhibition of P-c-Jun by D-JNKi is thought to be mediated via inhibition of the upstream phosphorylation of cytosolic and nuclear JNK and/or by preventing the direct interaction of phosphorylated (P-)JNK with c-Jun. Surprisingly, however, HI did not induce a detectable increase in P-JNK in cytosol or nucleus. Notably, we show here for the first time that HI induces P-JNK only in the mitochondrial fraction, which was completely prevented by D-JNKi treatment. The hypothesis that mitochondrial JNK activation is key to HI brain injury was supported by data showing that treatment of rat pups with SabKIM1 peptide, a specific mitochondrial JNK inhibitor, is also neuroprotective. Inhibition of HI-induced mitochondrial JNK activation was associated with preservation of mitochondrial integrity as evidenced by prevention of ATP loss and inhibition of lipid peroxidation. The HI-induced increase in apoptotic markers (cytochrome c release and caspase 3 activation) as analyzed at 24h post-HI were also strongly reduced by D-JNKi and the mitochondrial anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL were upregulated. Neuroprotection was lost after repeated 0+3h D-JNKi treatment which was associated with complete inhibition of the second peak of AP-1 activity and disability to upregulate mitochondrial Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. We show here for the first time that D-JNKi treatment efficiently protects the neonatal brain against ischemic brain damage and subsequent cognitive and motor impairment. We propose that inhibition of phosphorylation of mitochondrial JNK is a pivotal step in preventing early loss of mitochondrial integrity leading to reduced neuroinflammation and inhibition of apoptotic neuronal loss. Moreover we show the crucial role of upregulation of mitochondrial anti-apoptotic proteins to maintain neuroprotection. Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This article was published in Neurobiol Dis
and referenced in Journal of Clinical & Cellular Immunology