Preservation of spatial memory and neuroprotection by the fatty acid amide hydrolase inhibitor URB597 in a rat model of vascular dementia

Ann Transl Med. 2021 Feb;9(3):228. doi: 10.21037/atm-20-4431.


Background: Chronic cerebral hypoperfusion (CCH) is a major risk factor for vascular dementia (VaD). There are currently no broadly effective prevention or treatment strategies for VaD, but recent studies have reported promising results following vascular bypass surgery and pharmacomodulation of the brain endocannabinoid system (ECS). In this study, early effects of encephalomyosynangiosis (EMS) bypass surgery and augmented endocannabinoid signaling on CCH-induced cognitive dysfunction and neuronal damage were investigated.

Methods: An animal model of VaD was established by bilateral common carotid artery occlusion (BCCAO). Cannabinoid signaling was upregulated by treatment with the fatty acid amide hydrolase inhibitor URB597 (URB). Spatial learning and memory, cerebral blood flow (CBF), revascularization, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB) signaling, and apoptosis were compared among Sham, BCCAO, BCCAO + EMS, BCCAO + URB, and BCCAO + URB + EMS groups. Spatial learning and memory were evaluated using the Morris water maze (MWM). The CBF in cortex and hippocampus was evaluated by 3-dimensional arterial spin labeling. The neovascularization was visualized by CD34 immunofluorescence staining, and BDNF-TrkB signaling protein expression levels were assessed by Western blotting.

Results: Treatment with URB597 but not EMS alone reversed the spatial learning and memory deficits induced by BCCAO. Neovascularization was enhanced after EMS surgery but not by URB597. Alternatively, there were no significant differences in CBF among treatment groups. Expression levels of BDNF and TrkB were significantly reduced by CCH compared to Sham treatment, and downregulation of both proteins was reversed by URB597 treatment but not EMS. BCCAO enhanced neuronal apoptosis, which was also reversed by URB597.

Conclusions: Augmentation of endogenous cannabinoid signaling but not EMS protects against CCH-induced neurodegeneration and preserves spatial learning and memory, possibly by activating BDNF-TrkB signaling.

Keywords: BDNF; chronic cerebral hypoperfusion (CCH); cognitive dysfunction; encephalomyosynangiosis (EMS); endocannabinoid system (ECS).