The identification of novel drug targets for the treatment of ischemic stroke is currently an urgent challenge. Recent experimental findings have highlighted the neuroprotective potential of immunomodulatory strategies, based on polarization of myeloid cells toward non-inflammatory, beneficial phenotypes. Given the role of retinoid X receptors (RXR) in myeloid cells differentiation and polarization, here we have explored the neuroprotective potential of the RXR agonist bexarotene in mice subjected to focal cerebral ischemia.
Acute administration of bexarotene significantly reduced blood brain barrier leakage, brain infarct damage and neurological deficit produced by transient middle cerebral artery occlusion in mice, without affecting cerebral blood flow. The rexinoid exerted neuroprotection with a wide time-window, being effective when administered up to 4.5 h after the insult. The amelioration of histological outcome, as well as the ability of bexarotene to revert middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAo)-induced spleen atrophy, was antagonised by BR1211, a pan-RXR antagonist, or by the selective peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)γ antagonist bisphenol A diglycidyl ether (BADGE), highlighting the involvement of the RXR/PPARγ heterodimer in the beneficial effects exerted by the drug. Immunofluorescence analysis revealed that bexarotene elevates Ym1-immunopositive N2 neutrophils both in the ipsilateral hemisphere and in the spleen of mice subjected to transient middle cerebral artery occlusion, pointing to a major role for peripheral neutrophil polarization in neuroprotection.
Thus, our findings suggest that the RXR agonist bexarotene exerts peripheral immunomodulatory effects under ischemic conditions to be effectively repurposed for the acute therapy of ischemic stroke.