The brain can protect itself from ischemia and/or hypoxia by two distinct mechanisms which probably involve two separate systems of neurons in the CNS. One, which mediates a reflexive neurogenic neuroprotection, emanates from oxygen-sensitive sympathoexcitatory reticulospinal neurons of the RVLM. These cells, excited within seconds by reduction in blood flow or oxygen, initiate the systemic vascular components of the oxygen conserving (diving) reflex. They profoundly increase rCBF without changing rCGU and, hence, rapidly and efficiently provide the brain with oxygen. Upon cessation of the stimulus the systemic and cerebrovascular adjustments return to normal. The system mediating reflex protection projects via as-yet-undefined projections from RVLM to upper brainstem and/or thalamus to engage a small population of neurons in the cortex which appear to be dedicated to transducing a neuronal signal into vasodilation. It also appears to relay the central neurogenic vasodilation elicited from other brain regions, including excitation of axons innervating the FN. This mode of protection would be initiated under conditions of global ischemia and/or hypoxemia because the signal is detected by medullary neurons. The second neuroprotective system is represented in intrinsic neurons of the cerebellar FN and mediates a conditioned central neurogenic neuroprotection. The response can be initiated by excitation of intrinsic neurons of the FN and does not appear dependent upon RVLM. The pathways and transmitters that mediate the effect are unknown. The neuroprotection afforded by this network is long-lasting, persisting for almost two weeks, and is associated with reduced excitability of cortical neurons and reduced immunoreactivity of cerebral microvessels. This mode of neuroprotection, moreover, is not restricted to focal ischemia, as we have demonstrated that it also protects the brain against global ischemia and excitotoxic cell death. That the brain may have neuronal systems dedicated to protecting itself from injury, at first appearing to be a novel concept, is, upon reflection, not surprising since the brain is not injured in naturalistic behaviors characterized by very low levels of rCBF, diving and hibernation. An understanding of the pathways, transmitters, and molecules engaged in such protection may provide new insights into novel therapies for a range of disorders characterized by neuronal death.
|Number of pages
|Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
|Published - Dec 19 1997
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- History and Philosophy of Science