Therapeutic Hypothermia Provides Variable Protection against Behavioral Deficits after Neonatal Hypoxia-Ischemia: A Potential Role for Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor

Johana Diaz, Suleiman Abiola, Nancy Kim, Oliver Avaritt, Debra Flock, Jenny Yu, Frances J. Northington, Raul Chavez-Valdez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Despite treatment with therapeutic hypothermia (TH), infants who survive hypoxic ischemic (HI) encephalopathy (HIE) have persistent neurological abnormalities at school age. Protection by TH against HI brain injury is variable in both humans and animal models. Our current preclinical model of hypoxia-ischemia (HI) and TH displays this variability of outcomes in neuropathological and neuroimaging end points with some sexual dimorphism. The detailed behavioral phenotype of this model is unknown. Whether there is sexual dimorphism in certain behavioral domains is also not known. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) supports neuronal cell survival and repair but may also be a marker of injury. Here, we characterize the behavioral deficits after HI and TH stratified by sex, as well as late changes in BDNF and its correlation with memory impairment. Methods: HI was induced in C57BL6 mice on postnatal day 10 (p10) (modified Vannucci model). Mice were randomized to TH (31°C) or normothermia (NT, 36°C) for 4 h after HI. Controls were anesthesia-exposed, age-and sex-matched littermates. Between p16 and p39, growth was followed, and behavioral testing was performed including reflexes (air righting, forelimb grasp and negative geotaxis) and sensorimotor, learning, and memory skills (open field, balance beam, adhesive removal, Y-maze tests, and object location task [OLT]). Correlations between mature BDNF levels in the forebrain and p42 memory outcomes were studied. Results: Both male and female HI mice had an approximately 8-12% lower growth rate (g/day) than shams (p ≤ 0.01) by p39. TH ameliorated this growth failure in females but not in males. In female mice, HI injury prolonged the time spent at the periphery (open field) at p36 (p = 0.004), regardless of treatment. TH prevented motor impairments in the balance beam and adhesive removal tests in male and female mice, respectively (p ≤ 0.05). Male and female HI mice visited the new arm of the Y-maze 12.5% (p = 0.05) and 10% (p = 0.03) less often than shams, respectively. Male HI mice also had 35% lower exploratory preference score than sham (p ≤ 0.001) in the OLT. TH did not prevent memory impairments found with Y-maze testing or OLT in either sex (p ≤ 0.01) at p26. At p42, BDNF levels in the forebrain ipsilateral to the HI insult were 1.7-to 2-fold higher than BDNF levels in the sham forebrain, and TH did not prevent this increase. Higher BDNF levels in the forebrain ipsilateral to the insult correlated with worse performance in the Y-maze in both sexes and in OLT in male mice (p = 0.01). Conclusions: TH provides benefit in specific domains of behavior following neonatal HI. In general, these benefits accrued to both males and females, but not in all areas. In some domains, such as memory, no benefit of TH was found. Late differences in individual BDNF levels may explain some of these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-272
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental Neuroscience
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Astrocytes
  • Growth rate
  • Memory deficits
  • Primitive reflexes
  • Sensorymotor deficits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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