Protective effects and mechanisms of high-dose vitamin C on sepsis-associated cognitive impairment in rats

Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 15;11(1):14511. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-93861-x.


Sepsis survivors present long-term cognitive deficits. The present study was to investigate the effect of early administration of high-dose vitamin C on cognitive function in septic rats and explore its possible cerebral protective mechanism. Rat sepsis models were established by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP). Ten days after surgery, the Morris water maze test was performed to evaluate the behavior and cognitive function. Histopathologic changes in the hippocampus were evaluated by nissl staining. The inflammatory cytokines, activities of antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase or SOD) and oxidative products (malondialdehyde or MDA) in the serum and hippocampus were tested 24 h after surgery. The activity of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) and expressions of nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) and heme oxygenase-1(HO-1) in the hippocampus were measured 24 h after surgery. Compared with the sham group in the Morris water maze test, the escape latency of sepsis rats was significantly (P = 0.001) prolonged in the navigation test, whereas the frequency to cross the platform and the time spent in the target quadrant were significantly (P = 0.003) reduced. High-dose vitamin C significantly decreased the escape latency (P = 0.01), but increased the time spent in the target quadrant (P = 0.04) and the frequency to cross the platform (P = 0.19). In the CLP+ saline group, the pyramidal neurons were reduced and distributed sparsely and disorderly, the levels of inflammatory cytokines of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interleukin (IL)-6, and IL-10 in the serum and hippocampus were significantly increased (P = 0.000), the blood brain barrier (BBB) permeability in the hippocampus was significantly (P = 0.000) increased, the activities of SOD in the serum and hippocampus were significantly (P = 0.000 and P = 0.03, respectively) diminished while the levels of MDA in the serum and hippocampus were significantly (P = 0.007) increased. High-dose vitamin C mitigated hippocampus histopathologic changes, reduced systemic inflammation and neuroinflammation, attenuated BBB disruption, inhibited oxidative stress in brain tissue, and up-regulated the expression of nuclear and total Nrf2 and HO-1. High-dose vitamin C significantly (P < 0.05) decreased the levels of tumor necrosis factor- (TNF)-α, interleukin-6 (IL-6), MDA in the serum and hippocampus, and the activity of MMP-9 in the hippocampus, but significantly (P < 0.05) increased the levels of SOD, the anti-inflammatory cytokine (IL-10) in the serum and hippocampus, and nuclear and total Nrf2, and HO-1 in the hippocampus. In conclusion, high-dose vitamin C can improve cognition impairment in septic rats, and the possible protective mechanism may be related to inhibition of inflammatory factors, alleviation of oxidative stress, and activation of the Nrf2/HO-1 pathway.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / drug effects
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Male
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Protective Agents / administration & dosage
  • Protective Agents / pharmacology
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sepsis / complications*
  • Sepsis / drug therapy
  • Sepsis / etiology


  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Nfe2l2 protein, rat
  • Protective Agents
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing)
  • Hmox1 protein, rat
  • Ascorbic Acid