Cortical Selective Neuronal Loss, Impaired Behavior, and Normal Magnetic Resonance Imaging in a New Rat Model of True Transient Ischemic Attacks

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Background and Purpose—

New-definition transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are frequent but difficult to diagnose because magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-negative by definition. However, hidden underlying cell damage might be present and account for the reported long-lasting cognitive impairment after TIAs. Most prior rodent models of true TIA targeted the striatum or have not been fully characterized. Here we present the MRI, behavioral, and quantitative cell changes characterizing a new rodent model of true TIA targeting the more behaviorally relevant cerebral cortex.


Fifteen-minute distal middle cerebral artery occlusion was performed in 29 spontaneously hypertensive rats allowed to survive for 7 to 60 days. Behavior was assessed serially using both global neurological and fine sensorimotor tests. Diffusion- and T2-weighted MRI was obtained 20 min postreperfusion and again 7 to 60 days later, and then changes in neurons and microglia were quantified across the middle cerebral artery territory using immunohistochemistry.


No MRI changes or pan-necrosis were observed at any time point, but patchy cortical selective neuronal loss affected 28/29 rats, regardless of survival interval, together with topographically congruent microglial activation that gradually declined over time. The Neuroscore was unchanged, but there was marked contralateral sensorimotor impairment, still recovering by day 28.


Our new rodent model mimicking true cortical TIA is characterized by normal MRI, but consistent cortical selective neuronal loss and microglial activation and long-lasting sensorimotor deficits. By causing selective neuronal loss, TIAs and silent microemboli might affect neuronal reserve, thereby increasing long-term cognitive impairment risk. Selective neuronal loss and microglial activation might represent novel therapeutic targets that could be detectable in vivo after TIAs using appropriate imaging tracers.

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