Traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to blast from improvised explosive devices has been a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the mechanisms of primary blast-induced TBI are not well understood. The Akt signal transduction pathway has been implicated in various brain pathologies including TBI. In the present study, the effects of simulated primary blast waves on the phosphorylation status of Akt and its downstream effector kinase, glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β), in rat hippocampus, were investigated. Male Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats (350-400 g) were exposed to a single pulse shock wave (25 psi; ~7 ms duration) and sacrificed 1 day, 1 week, or 6 weeks after exposure. Total and phosphorylated Akt, as well as phosphorylation of its downstream effector kinase GSK3β (at serine 9), were detected with western blot analysis and immunohistochemistry. Results showed that Akt phosphorylation at both serine 473 and threonine 308 was increased 1 day after blast on the ipsilateral side of the hippocampus, and this elevation persisted until at least 6 weeks postexposure. Similarly, phosphorylation of GSK3β at serine 9, which inhibits GSK3β activity, was also increased starting at 1 day and persisted until at least 6 weeks after primary blast on the ipsilateral side. In contrast, p-Akt was increased at 1 and 6 weeks on the contralateral side, while p-GSK3β was increased 1 day and 1 week after primary blast exposure. No significant changes in total protein levels of Akt and GSK were observed on either side of the hippocampus at any time points. Immunohistochemical results showed that increased p-Akt was mainly of neuronal origin in the CA1 region of the hippocampus and once phosphorylated, the majority was translocated to the dendritic and plasma membranes. Finally, electrophysiological data showed that evoked synaptic N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activity was significantly increased 6 weeks after primary blast, suggesting that increased Akt phosphorylation may enhance synaptic NMDA receptor activation, or that enhanced synaptic NMDA receptor activation may increase Akt phosphorylation.
Keywords: Akt; N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor; neurotrauma; primary blast; traumatic brain injury.