Nitric oxide (NO) is a universal mediator of biological effects in the brain. It has been implicated in the pathophysiological processes of traumatic brain injury. Understanding its pathophysiological role in vivo requires an understanding of the cellular sources and tissue compartments of the differentially regulated NO synthase (NOS) isoforms. This study was undertaken to investigate the cellular sources and tissue compartments of NO produced after experimental brain contusions in rats, by analysis of the early expression of the three isoforms of NOS, i.e., the inducible, endothelial, and neuronal isoforms.
Focal brain contusions were produced in 24 rats using a weight-drop model. The animals were killed 6, 12, 24, 36, or 48 hours after trauma. Sections were analyzed by immunohistochemical and immunofluorescence analyses. Double staining assays were used to define which cells produced the different NOS isoforms.
Increases in endothelial NOS-, inducible NOS (iNOS)-, and neuronal NOS-positive cells were detectable by 6 hours after trauma. Endothelial NOS and iNOS levels peaked at 6 and 12 hours, respectively. Expression of neuronal NOS initially increased to a peak at 12 hours but then decreased to a level lower than that in control samples at 36 hours. Endothelial NOS was expressed exclusively in endothelial cells, whereas iNOS was expressed in neutrophils and macrophages. Neuronal NOS was predominantly detected in neurons but was also unexpectedly detected in polymorphonuclear cells.
In this model, the most striking finding regarding NO-producing enzymes was the expression of iNOS in polymorphonuclear cells and macrophages, cells that invade injured brain tissue. iNOS is thus implicated as a therapeutic target in contusional injuries. This pattern of NOS expression cannot be generalized to all types of brain injuries. The different compartments and cells that can produce NO are differentially regulated; therefore, compartmentalization can explain why NO is beneficial or detrimental, depending on the circumstances. A knowledge of different potential sites and sources of NO is required for any attempts to interfere with the pathophysiological properties of NO.
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