Caspase-3 contributes to ZO-1 and Cl-5 tight-junction disruption in rapid anoxic neurovascular unit damage

Christoph M Zehendner, Laura Librizzi, Marco de Curtis, Christoph R W Kuhlmann, Heiko J Luhmann
PloS One 2011, 6 (2): e16760

BACKGROUND: Tight-junction (TJ) protein degradation is a decisive step in hypoxic blood-brain barrier (BBB) breakdown in stroke. In this study we elucidated the impact of acute cerebral ischemia on TJ protein arrangement and the role of the apoptotic effector protease caspase-3 in this context.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We used an in vitro model of the neurovascular unit and the guinea pig whole brain preparation to analyze with immunohistochemical methods the BBB properties and neurovascular integrity. In both methodological approaches we observed rapid TJ protein disruptions after 30 min of oxygen and glucose deprivation or middle cerebral artery occlusion, which were accompanied by strong caspase-3 activation in brain endothelial cells (BEC). Surprisingly only few DNA-fragmentations were detected with TUNEL stainings in BEC. Z-DEVD-fmk, an irreversible caspase-3 inhibitor, partly blocked TJ disruptions and was protective on trans-endothelial electrical resistance.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our data provide evidence that caspase-3 is rapidly activated during acute cerebral ischemia predominantly without triggering DNA-fragmentation in BEC. Further we detected fast TJ protein disruptions which could be partly blocked by caspase-3 inhibition with Z-DEVD-fmk. We suggest that the basis for clinically relevant BBB breakdown in form of TJ disruptions is initiated within minutes during ischemia and that caspase-3 contributes to this process.

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