Traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by the external force leads to the neuronal dysfunction and even death. TBI has been reported to significantly increase the phosphorylation of glial gap junction protein connexin 43 (Cx43), which in turn propagates damages into surrounding brain tissues. However, the neuroprotective and anti-apoptosis effects of glia-derived exosomes have also been implicated in recent studies. Therefore, we detected whether TBI-induced phosphorylation of Cx43 would promote exosome release in rat brain. To generate TBI model, adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to lateral fluid percussion injury. Phosphorylated Cx43 protein levels and exosome activities were quantified using Western blot analysis following TBI. Long-term potentiation (LTP) was also tested in rat hippocampal slices. TBI significantly increased the phosphorylated Cx43 and exosome markers expression in rat ipsilateral hippocampus, but not cortex. Blocking the activity of Cx43 or ERK, but not JNK, significantly suppressed TBI-induced exosome release in hippocampus. Furthermore, TBI significantly inhibited the induction of LTP in hippocampal slices, which could be partially but significantly restored by pretreatment with exosomes. The results imply that TBI-activated Cx43 could mediate a nociceptive effect by propagating the brain damages, as well as a neuroprotective effect by promoting exosome release. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We have demonstrated in rat traumatic brain injury (TBI) models that both phosphorylated connexin 43 (p-Cx43) expression and exosome release were elevated in the hippocampus following TBI. The promoted exosome release depends on the phosphorylation of Cx43 and requires ERK signaling activation. Exosome treatment could partially restore the attenuated long-term potentiation. Our results provide new insight for future therapeutic direction on the functional recovery of TBI by promoting p-Cx43-dependent exosome release but limiting the gap junction-mediated bystander effect.
Keywords: ERK; connexin 43; exosome-based therapy; hippocampus; traumatic brain injury.