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Kaoruko Kato, Miki Fujimura, Atsuhiro Nakagawa, Atsushi Saito, Tomohiro Ohki, Kazuyoshi Takayama and Teiji Tominaga


Shock waves have been experimentally applied to various neurosurgical treatments including fragmentation of cerebral emboli, perforation of cyst walls or tissue, and delivery of drugs into cells. Nevertheless, the application of shock waves to clinical neurosurgery remains challenging because the threshold for shock wave–induced brain injury has not been determined. The authors investigated the pressure-dependent effect of shock waves on histological changes of rat brain, focusing especially on apoptosis.


Adult male rats were exposed to a single shot of shock waves (produced by silver azide explosion) at over-pressures of 1 or 10 MPa after craniotomy. Histological changes were evaluated sequentially by H & E staining and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase–mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick-end labeling (TUNEL). The expression of active caspase-3 and the effect of the nonselective caspase inhibitor N-benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-fluoromethylketone (Z-VAD-FMK) were examined to evaluate the contribution of a caspase-dependent pathway to shock wave–induced brain injury.

High-overpressure (> 10 MPa) shock wave exposure resulted in contusional hemorrhage associated with a significant increase in TUNEL-positive neurons exhibiting chromatin condensation, nuclear segmentation, and apoptotic bodies. The maximum increase was seen at 24 hours after shock wave application. Low-overpressure (1 MPa) shock wave exposure resulted in spindle-shaped changes in neurons and elongation of nuclei without marked neuronal injury. The administration of Z-VAD-FMK significantly reduced the number of TUNEL-positive cells observed 24 hours after high-overpressure shock wave exposure (p < 0.01). A significant increase in the cytosolic expression of active caspase-3 was evident 24 hours after high-overpressure shock wave application; this increase was prevented by Z-VAD-FMK administration. Double immunofluorescence staining showed that TUNEL-positive cells were exclusively neurons.


The threshold for shock wave–induced brain injury is speculated to be under 1 MPa, a level that is lower than the threshold for other organs. High-overpressure shock wave exposure results in brain injury, including neuronal apoptosis mediated by a caspase-dependent pathway. This is the first report in which the pressure-dependent effect of shock wave on the histological characteristics of brain tissue is demonstrated.