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High-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels are inversely associated with stroke incidence, suggesting a protective effect. Using a rat model, we tested the hypothesis that HDL exerts direct vasculo-/neuroprotective effects when administered during the acute phase of embolic stroke.After embolic occlusion, Sprague-Dawley rats were randomly treated intravenously with purified HDL versus saline immediately (2, 10 mg/kg) or 3 or 5 hours (10 mg/kg) after stroke. The effects of HDL were assessed blindly 24 hours later by evaluating neurological deficit score and measuring the infarct volume and blood–brain barrier breakdown. Protease activities and neutrophil infiltration were also evaluated.HDL injection immediately after stroke (10 mg/kg) reduced by 68% the mortality at 24 hours (P=0.015). HDL administration immediately or at 3 or 5 hours after stroke also reduced cerebral infarct volume by 74%, 68%, and 70.7%, respectively (P=0.0003, P=0.011, and P=0.019; n=17 per group). The neurological deficit at 24 hours in the HDL-treated group was decreased versus the saline-treated group (P=0.015). Ischemia-induced blood–brain barrier breakdown was significantly reduced in HDL-treated rats versus controls (P=0.0045). Neuroprotective effects of HDL were associated with decreased neutrophil recruitment in the infarct area (P=0.0027) accompanied by reduced matrix metalloproteinase gelatinase activity. Immunostaining showed that HDL was associated with endothelial and glial cells, and also that intercellular adhesion molecule-1 expression was decreased in vessels within the infarct area.Administration of HDL is neuroprotective when performed up to 5 hours after experimental stroke. This effect may be attributed to the ability of HDL to protect the blood–brain barrier and limit neutrophil recruitment.