Prolonged hypothermia in rat: a safety study using brain-selective and systemic treatments

Ther Hypothermia Temp Manag. 2012 Mar;2(1):37-43. doi: 10.1089/ther.2012.0005. Epub 2012 Apr 5.


Hypothermia is an effective neuroprotectant for cardiac arrest and perinatal ischemic injury. Hypothermia also improves outcome after traumatic brain injury and stroke. Although the ideal treatment parameters (duration, delay, and depth) are not fully delineated, prolonged cooling is usually more effective than shorter periods. There is the concern that extended cooling may be hazardous to brain plasticity and cause damage. In order to evaluate this possibility, we assessed the effects of 3 days of systemic hypothermia (32°C) in rats subjected to a sham stroke surgery. There were no detrimental behavioral effects or signs of brain damage. As even longer cooling may be needed in some patients, we cooled (∼32°C) the right hemisphere of rats for 3 or 21 days. Physiological variables, functional outcome, and measures of cell injury were examined. Focal brain cooling for 21 days modestly decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and core temperature. However, focal hypothermia did not affect subsequent behavior (e.g., spontaneous limb usage), cell morphology (e.g., dendritic arborization, ultrastructure), or cause cell death. In conclusion, prolonged mild hypothermia did not harm the brain of normal animals. Further research is now needed to evaluate whether such treatments affect plasticity after brain injury.