Therapeutic hypothermia demonstrates sex-dependent improvements in motor function in a rat model of neonatal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy

Behav Brain Res. 2023 Feb 2:437:114119. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2022.114119. Epub 2022 Sep 23.


Neonatal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a neurological disease caused by restricted oxygen and blood flow to the brain at or around the time of birth. Long term cognitive and motor sequelae are common and demonstrate sexual dimorphism in animal studies. Therapeutic hypothermia (TH) is the standard of care for HIE, but provides incomplete neuroprotection. Using the Vannucci model of neonatal HIE, term-equivalent 11-day old rat pups were subjected to mild-moderate hypoxic-ischemic injury (HII), and a subset of animals were treated with TH. Sex-dependent neuroprotection was measured with gross and fine motor control assays, and functional deficits detected with these assays were correlated to injury in specific brain structures. At the equivalent of human adolescence and adulthood (P51-89), accelerod and beam walking tests were used to assess gross motor function, and string-pulling and food handling tests were used to assess fine motor function. At necropsy (P94-97), brain lesions were primarily focused to the posterior cerebrum and characterized by variable reduction in cortical, thalamic and hippocampal regions and glial scarring. Gross motor impairment was detected in male rats with untreated and TH-treated HIE in the accelerod test, but beam walk test data was confounded by the lower body mass of untreated male rats. HIE animals of both sexes demonstrated deficit in the forelimb contralateral to ischemic surgery, observed as unilaterally impaired food handling behaviors, and in string pulling as decreased string contacts and increased in bracing behavior. However, kinematic analyses revealed sex-specific decreases in peak speeds in string reaching and pulling movements. In both sexes, treatment with TH improved body mass, some measures of contralateral forelimb impairment, and the severity of brain lesions to levels not different to Sham surgery rats. Unique differences in behavior following TH were observed in female rats, who took longer to consume food items but traversed beams and approached strings faster than untreated and Sham females. Future use of these motor assays may unravel the subtle, sex-specific differences in HIE outcomes and in developing a customized therapeutic approach to neonatal brain injury.

Keywords: Fine motor control; Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy; Kinematics; Sexual dimorphism; Therapeutic hypothermia; Vannucci’s model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced*
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / pathology
  • Male
  • Neuroprotection
  • Rats