Excessive glutamate release followed by N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) activation plays a crucial role in perinatal brain injury. We have previously shown that dextromethorphan, a low-affinity NMDAR antagonist with anti-inflammatory properties, is neuroprotective against neonatal excitotoxic brain injury. Of interest, dextromethorphan is also a sigma-1 receptor (σ1R) agonist. The pharmacologic class of σ1R agonists has yielded propitious results in various animal models of adult central nervous system pathology. In an established neonatal mouse model of excitotoxic brain injury, we evaluated the effect of the selective σ1R agonist 2-(4-morpholinethyl) 1-phenylcyclohexanecarboxylate (PRE-084). A single intraperitoneal injection of 0.1 μg/g (low dose) or 10 μg/g (high dose) bodyweight (bw) PRE-084, given 1h after the excitotoxic insult, significantly reduced lesion size in cortical gray matter 24 h and 120 h after the insult. Repetitive injections of 0.1 μg/g PRE-084 proved to be equally effective. PRE-084 treatment resulted in a decrease in cell death indicated by reduced TUNEL positivity and caspase-3 activation. Furthermore, it lowered the number of isolectin B4-positive, activated microglial cells. PRE-084 had no effect on developmental apoptosis in the undamaged brain. In vitro findings in primary hippocampal neurons suggest that PRE-084 treatment provides partial protection against glutamate induced morphological and functional changes. For excitotoxicity as playing a crucial role in the pathogenesis of perinatal brain injury, we demonstrate for the first time that systemic treatment with the highly selective σ1R agonist PRE-084 protects against NMDAR-mediated excitotoxic brain damage.
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