Chronic liver failure leads to hyperammonemia, a central component in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy (HE); however, a correlation between blood ammonia levels and HE severity remains controversial. It is believed oxidative stress plays a role in modulating the effects of hyperammonemia. This study aimed to determine the relationship between chronic hyperammonemia, oxidative stress, and brain edema (BE) in two rat models of HE: portacaval anastomosis (PCA) and bile-duct ligation (BDL). Ammonia and reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels, BE, oxidant and antioxidant enzyme activities, as well as lipid peroxidation were assessed both systemically and centrally in these two different animal models. Then, the effects of allopurinol (xanthine oxidase inhibitor, 100mg/kg for 10days) on ROS and BE and the temporal resolution of ammonia, ROS, and BE were evaluated only in BDL rats. Similar arterial and cerebrospinal fluid ammonia levels were found in PCA and BDL rats, both significantly higher compared to their respective sham-operated controls (p<0.05). BE was detected in BDL rats (p < 0.05) but not in PCA rats. Evidence of oxidative stress was found systemically but not centrally in BDL rats: increased levels of ROS, increased activity of xanthine oxidase (oxidant enzyme), enhanced oxidative modifications on lipids, as well as decreased antioxidant defense. In PCA rats, a preserved oxidant/antioxidant balance was demonstrated. Treatment with allopurinol in BDL rats attenuated both ROS and BE, suggesting systemic oxidative stress is implicated in the pathogenesis of BE. Analysis of ROS and ammonia temporal resolution in the plasma of BDL rats suggests systemic oxidative stress might be an important "first hit", which, followed by increases in ammonia, leads to BE in chronic liver failure. In conclusion, chronic hyperammonemia and oxidative stress in combination lead to the onset of BE in rats with chronic liver failure.
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