Therapeutic hypothermia (TH) is standard treatment following perinatal asphyxia in newborn infants. Experimentally, TH is neuroprotective after moderate hypoxia-ischemia (HI) in seven-day-old (P7) rats. However, TH is not neuroprotective after severe HI. After a moderate HI insult in newborn brain injury models, the anesthetic gas xenon (Xe) doubles TH neuroprotection. The aim of this study was to examine whether combining Xe and TH is neuroprotective as applied in a P7 rat model of severe HI.
120 P7 rat pups underwent a severe HI insult; unilateral carotid artery ligation followed by hypoxia (8% O2 for 150min at experimental normothermia (NT-37: Trectal 37° C). Surviving pups were randomised to immediate NT-37 for 5h (n = 36), immediate TH-32: Trectal 32° C for 5h (n = 25) or immediate TH-32 plus 50% inhaled Xe for 5h (n = 24). Pups were sacrificed after one week of survival. Relative area loss of the ligated hemisphere was measured, and neurons in the subventricular zone of this injured hemisphere were counted, to quantify brain damage.
Following the HI insult, median (interquartile range, IQR) hemispheric brain area loss was similar in all groups: 63.5% (55.5-75.0) for NT-37 group, 65.0% (57.0-65.0) for TH-32 group, and 66.5% (59.0-72.0) for TH-32+Xe50% group (not significant). Correspondingly, there was no difference in neuronal cell count (NeuN marker) in the subventricular zone across the three treatment groups.
Immediate therapeutic hypothermia with or without additional 50% inhaled Xe, does not provide neuroprotection one week after severe HI brain injury in the P7 neonatal rat. This model aims to mimic the clinical situation in severely asphyxiated neonates and treatment these newborns remains an ongoing challenge.