Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation reduces blood-brain barrier disruption in a rat model of ischemic stroke

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Background: Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) significantly reduces infarct volume in rat models of cerebral ischemia, but the mechanism of this protective effect remains open. Hypothesis: This study tested the hypothesis that non-invasive VNS (nVNS), during transient middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO), protects the blood-brain barrier (BBB), leading to reduced infarct size in ischemic brain. Methods: Spontaneous hypertensive rats (SHRs) were subjected to a 90 min MCAO. nVNS treated rats received 5 stimulations (duration: 2 min; every 10 min) on the skin overlying the cervical vagus nerve in the neck beginning 30 min after MCAO onset. Control rats received the same stimulations on the quadriceps femoris muscle. Twenty-four hours after MCAO onset, MRI and immunohistochemistry (IHC) were performed for analyses of infarct size and BBB leakage. Results: Compared with the control group, anatomic MRI T2-weighted images showed significantly smaller infarct sizes in the nVNS group. Dynamic contrast-enhanced (DCE)-MRI showed a significantly decreased BBB transfer rate (Ki map) in the lesion area in the nVNS group, which was spatially correlated with the attenuation of the infarct size. Furthermore, significantly lower serum IgG leakage, visualized by IHC, was seen in the ischemic hemisphere in nVNS treated rats. nVNS also protected vascular tight junction proteins from disruption in microvessels, and reduced expression of matrix metalloproteinases-2/9 in reactive astrocytes surrounding the compromised vessels in the ischemic hemispheres. Conclusion: Our data suggest that the neuroprotective role of a series of nVNS administrations during MCA occlusion, spatially correlates with protection of BBB integrity from damage and reduction of infarct extent induced by ischemic stroke.




Yang, Y., Yang, L. Y., Orban, L., Cuylear, D., Thompson, J., Simon, B., & Yang, Y. (2018). Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation reduces blood-brain barrier disruption in a rat model of ischemic stroke. Brain Stimulation, 11(4), 689–698.

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