Although traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and morbidity in young adults, no effective pharmaceutical treatment is available. By inhibiting glycogen synthase kinase–3 (GSK-3) and histone deacetylases (HDACs), respectively, lithium and valproate (VPA) have beneficial effects in diverse neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, in an excitotoxic neuronal model and in animal models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington disease, and stroke, combined treatment with lithium and VPA produces more robust neuroprotective effects than treatment with either agent alone. Building on previous work that establishes that therapeutic doses of either lithium or VPA have beneficial effects in mouse models of TBI, this study evaluated the effects of combined treatment with subeffective doses of lithium and VPA in a mouse model of TBI.
Male C57BL/6 mice underwent TBI and were subsequently treated with lithium, VPA, or a combination of lithium and VPA 15 minutes post-TBI and once daily thereafter for up to 3 weeks; all doses were subeffective (1 mEq/kg of lithium and 200 mg/kg of VPA). Assessed parameters included lesion volume via H & E staining; blood-brain barrier (BBB) integrity via immunoglobulin G extravasation; neurodegeneration via Fluoro-Jade B staining; motor coordination via a beam-walk test; and protein levels of acetylhistone H3, phospho-GSK-3β, and β-catenin via Western blotting.
Posttrauma treatment with combined subeffective doses of lithium and VPA significantly reduced lesion volume, attenuated BBB disruption, and mitigated hippocampal neurodegeneration 3 days after TBI. As expected, subeffective doses of lithium or VPA alone did not have these beneficial effects. Combined treatment also improved motor coordination starting from Day 7 and persisting at least 21 days after TBI. Acetylation of histone H3, an index of HDAC inhibition, was robustly increased by the combined treatment 3 days after TBI.
Cotreatment with subeffective doses of lithium and VPA significantly attenuated TBI-induced brain lesion, BBB disruption, and neurodegeneration, and robustly improved long-term functional recovery. These findings suggest that potentiating histone acetylation by HDAC inhibition is probably part of the mechanism underlying the beneficial effects associated with this combined treatment for TBI. Because both lithium and VPA have a long history of safe clinical use, the results suggest that using a combination of these 2 agents at subtherapeutic doses to treat patients with TBI may also reduce side effects and enhance tolerability.
Address correspondence to: De-Maw Chuang, Ph.D., Molecular Neurobiology Section, National Institute of Mental Heath, National Institutes of Health, 10 Center Dr., MSC-1363, Bethesda, MD 20892. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include this information when citing this paper: published online July 12, 2013; DOI: 10.3171/2013.6.JNS13135.
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