Dexmedetomidine provides cortical neuroprotection: impact on anaesthetic-induced neuroapoptosis in the rat developing brain

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Recent evidence has demonstrated the anti-apoptotic of dexmedetomidine in different brain injury models. Herein, we investigated whether dexmedetomidine could directly protect against cortical injury in vitro and in vivo.


Apoptosis was induced by staurosporine or wortmannin treatment in cortical neuronal cultures in vitro or by 6 h of isoflurane (0.75%) administration to post-natal day 7 rat pups in vivo. Dexmedetomidine was then applied in escalating doses to assess the neuroprotective potential of this agent. Cell survival was quantified using an MTT assay in vitro and in vivo apoptosis was assessed using cleaved caspase-3 immunohistochemistry. Cortical Western blots were conducted for the cellular survival proteins Bcl-2 and phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (pERK)1 and 2.


In vitro dexmedetomidine dose-dependently prevented both staurosporine- and wortmannin-induced injury in cortical neuronal cultures, indicating that dexmedetomidine can prevent apoptosis when applied directly. In vivo isoflurane induced cortical neuroapoptosis compared with air (327±80 vs. 34±9 caspase-3-positive neurons; P<0.05). Dexmedetomidine inhibited isoflurane-induced caspase-3 expression (P<0.05), although the protection achieved did not completely attenuate the isoflurane injury (P<0.05 vs. air). Isoflurane treatment decreased Bcl-2 and pERK protein expression relative to air, an effect reversed by dexmedetomidine treatment.


Dexmedetomidine prevents cortical apoptosis in vitro and in vivo. However, using higher doses of dexmedetomidine does not further increase protection against isoflurane injury in the cortex than previously observed.

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