The relationship of structural ischemic brain damage to neurobehavioural deficit: the effect of postischemic MK-801

Can J Psychol. 1990 Jun;44(2):196-209. doi: 10.1037/h0084242.


Global cerebral ischemia is well known to cause neuronal necrosis in selectively vulnerable sectors of the hippocampus. Since the hippocampus of the rat is involved in spatial navigation, learning, and memory, selective deficits in these abilities may arise from ischemic brain damage. Previous studies have shown (a) a detectable neurobehavioural deficit due to ischemic brain damage limited to half of the CA1 sector of the hippocampus and (b) a reduction of ischemic neuronal necrosis with the noncompetitive N-methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) antagonist MK-801. This study was designed to determine the relationship between the improvement in structural brain damage in postischemically treated rats and any improvement in neurobehavioural performance, using a learning-set water task. Seventeen male Wistar rats received 10.5 min of forebrain ischemia induced by carotid clamping and hypotension. Brain temperature was estimated with probes in the temporalis muscle. Ten of these animals received no therapy (controls), and seven animals received 5 mg/kg MK-801 iv, 20 min postischemia. Six additional rats underwent a sham operation. Postischemic hypothermia was prevented with heating lamps. Four controls and one MK-801 treated animal died. The survivors were then tested on a place learning-set task in a swimming pool paradigm, and quantitative histopathologic analysis of their entire brains was done. The learning-set task revealed defects in spatial navigation, reflected as increased errors and latency in the performance of the untreated control rats. The performance of the MK-801 treated group progressively approached that of sham-operated rats over the course of testing and was significantly better than controls. Importantly, no long-term detrimental effect of MK-801 on the learning-set task performance was seen. Quantitative neuropathology revealed significantly less damage in the MK-801 treated group in all major brain regions. In the hippocampus, MK-801 treated animals showed hippocampal damage limited to the vulnerable portion of the pyramidal cell band comprising 48.8% of the CA1 pyramidal cells, as opposed to 72.4% in untreated controls. Extra-hippocampal damage was evident only in untreated control animals. MK-801 totally prevented neuronal necrosis in both the cerebral cortex and striatum and also prevented infarction in the neocortex and thalamus. Three conclusions emerge from the study. First, postischemic MK-801 mitigates structural brain damage in several brain regions in the absence of concomitant hypothermia. Second, neurobehavioural performance appears to be improved by MK-801 when performance trends are examined, but is somewhat less sensitive than quantitated histopathology due to compounding interanimal variation in performance abilities.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants*
  • Brain Ischemia / psychology*
  • Dibenzocycloheptenes / pharmacology*
  • Discrimination Learning / drug effects*
  • Dizocilpine Maleate
  • Hippocampus / blood supply*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Mental Recall / drug effects*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Orientation / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Dibenzocycloheptenes
  • Dizocilpine Maleate