Paradoxical increase in neuronal DNA fragmentation after neuroprotective free radical scavenger treatment in experimental traumatic brain injury

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2001 Apr;21(4):344-50. doi: 10.1097/00004647-200104000-00003.


The mechanisms and role of nerve cell death after traumatic brain injury (TBI) are not fully understood. The authors investigated the effect of pretreatment with the oxygen free radical spin trap alpha-phenyl-N-tert-butyl-nitrone (PBN) on the number of neurons undergoing apoptosis after TBI in rats. Apoptotic cells were identified by the TUNEL method combined with the nuclear stain, Hoechst 33258, and immunohistochemistry for the active form of caspase-3. Numerous neurons became positive for activated caspase 3 and TUNEL in the cortex at 24 hours after injury, suggesting ongoing biochemical apoptosis. In PBN-treated rats, a significantly greater number of cells were found to be TUNEL positive at 24 hours compared with controls. However, PBN treatment resulted in a reduced cortical lesion volume and improved behavioral outcome two weeks after injury. The authors conclude that a treatment producing an increase in DNA fragmentation in the early phase may be compatible with an overall beneficial effect on outcome after TBI. This should be considered in the screening process for future neuroprotective remedies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Brain Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism*
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cyclic N-Oxides
  • DNA Fragmentation*
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Male
  • Necrosis
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Nitrogen Oxides / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cyclic N-Oxides
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • phenyl-N-tert-butylnitrone
  • Casp3 protein, rat
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases