The purpose of this study was to explore whether bilateral frontal cortex contusion in rats would demonstrate changes relevant for understanding the pathology of frontal lobe injury in humans. Rats were allowed to survive for 3, 7, or 18 days postinjury (dpi). In the contused rats, albumin was trapped in frontal cortices, as well as in other brain areas, showing that neurons were exposed to plasma components. In the sham-operated rats, which had only craniotomy but no penetration of dura, the level of trapped albumin was also increased compared to intact controls, suggesting a partial lesion- like condition. Choline acetyltransferase activity was severely decreased in the frontal cortices of contused rats, compared to the sham-operated controls. The decrease was most pronounced at 3 dpi and less pronounced 18 dpi, suggesting that after the initial damage, regeneration of the cholinergic terminals occurred. The concentration of the mature presynaptic membrane protein D3(SNAP-25) was also decreased in the frontal cortices of contused rats at 3 and 7 dpi, whereas it was normalized at 18 dpi. Previously, we have evaluated changes in the rate of synaptic remodeling in brain injury by calculating the ratio of the neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) to D3(SNAP-25). The NCAM/D3(SNAP-25) ratio at 3 dpi was elevated by more than 60% in the frontal cortices of contused rats, suggesting a high initial rate of synaptic remodeling. The ratios were smaller at 7 and 18 dpi, suggesting that after the initial burst, the rate of remodeling leveled off. In contrast, astrocyte activation was less pronounced at 3 dpi than at 7 and 18 dpi, as measured by the levels of glial fibrillary acidic protein and glutamine synthetase immunoactivities. The immunoreactivity of glutamine synthetase more than doubled in the contused brains but its enzymatic activity increased less than 50%, suggesting that many enzymatic centers had been inactivated by free radicals. Calculated as the difference between the relative immunoreactivity and the relative enzymatic activity the 'lost glutamine synthetase activity' increased continuously in frontal cortex and striatum from 3 to 18 dpi, indicating the production of free radicals long after the initial contusion event. In conclusion, following frontal cortical contusions the early synaptic damage was partly compensated by synaptic remodeling. We suggest that the continuous production of free radicals may have contributed to the declining remodeling rate and impair functional recovery.
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