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Evolution of neuronal and astroglial disruption in the peri-contusional cortex of mice revealed by in vivo two-photon imaging

Jeremy Sword, Tadashi Masuda, Deborah Croom, Sergei A. Kirov
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awt026 awt026 First published online: 6 March 2013


In traumatic brain injury mechanical forces applied to the cranium and brain cause irreversible primary neuronal and astroglial damage associated with terminal dendritic beading and spine loss representing acute damage to synaptic circuitry. Oedema develops quickly after trauma, raising intracranial pressure that results in a decrease of blood flow and consequently in cerebral ischaemia, which can cause secondary injury in the peri-contusional cortex. Spreading depolarizations have also been shown to occur after traumatic brain injury in humans and in animal models and are thought to accelerate and exacerbate secondary tissue injury in at-risk cortical territory. Yet, the mechanisms of acute secondary injury to fine synaptic circuitry within the peri-contusional cortex after mild traumatic brain injury remain unknown. A mild focal cortical contusion model in adult mouse sensory-motor cortex was implemented by the controlled cortical impact injury device. In vivo two-photon microscopy in the peri-contusional cortex was used to monitor via optical window yellow fluorescent protein expressing neurons, enhanced green fluorescent protein expressing astrocytes and capillary blood flow. Dendritic beading in the peri-contusional cortex developed slowly and the loss of capillary blood flow preceded terminal dendritic injury. Astrocytes were swollen indicating oedema and remained swollen during the next 24 h throughout the imaging session. There were no recurrent spontaneous spreading depolarizations in this mild traumatic brain injury model; however, when spreading depolarizations were repeatedly induced outside the peri-contusional cortex by pressure-injecting KCl, dendrites undergo rapid beading and recovery coinciding with passage of spreading depolarizations, as was confirmed with electrophysiological recordings in the vicinity of imaged dendrites. Yet, accumulating metabolic stress resulting from as few as four rounds of spreading depolarization significantly added to the fraction of beaded dendrites that were incapable to recover during repolarization, thus facilitating terminal injury. In contrast, similarly induced four rounds of spreading depolarization in another set of control healthy mice caused no accumulating dendritic injury as dendrites fully recovered from beading during repolarization. Taken together, our data suggest that in the mild traumatic brain injury the acute dendritic injury in the peri-contusional cortex is gated by the decline in the local blood flow, most probably as a result of developing oedema. Furthermore, spreading depolarization is a specific mechanism that could accelerate injury to synaptic circuitry in the metabolically compromised peri-contusional cortex, worsening secondary damage following traumatic brain injury.

  • acute brain injury
  • dendritic beading
  • astroglial swelling
  • cortical spreading depolarization
  • in vivo
  • two-photon microscopy
  • Abbreviations
    two-photon laser scanning microscopy
    enhanced green fluorescent protein
    traumatic brain injury
    yellow fluorescent protein
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