Post-trauma administration of the pifithrin-α oxygen analog improves histological and functional outcomes after experimental traumatic brain injury

L. Y. Yang, Y. H. Chu, D. Tweedie, Q. S. Yu, C. G. Pick, B. J. Hoffer, N. H. Greig, J. Y. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Programmed death of neuronal cells plays a crucial role in acute and chronic neurodegeneration following TBI. The tumor suppressor protein p53, a transcription factor, has been recognized as an important regulator of apoptotic neuronal death. The p53 inactivator pifithrin-α (PFT-α) has been shown to be neuroprotective against stroke. A previous cellular study indicated that PFT-α oxygen analog (PFT-α (O)) is more stable and active than PFT-α. We aimed to investigate whether inhibition of p53 using PFT-α or PFT-α (O) would be a potential neuroprotective strategy for TBI. To evaluate whether these drugs protect against excitotoxicity in vitro, primary rat cortical cultures were challenged with glutamate (50. mM) in the presence or absence of various concentrations of the p53 inhibitors PFT-α or PFT-α (O). Cell viability was estimated by LDH assay. In vivo, adult Sprague Dawley rats were subjected to controlled cortical impact (CCI, with 4. m/s velocity, 2. mm deformation). Five hours after injury, PFT-α or PFT-α (O) (2. mg/kg, i.v.) was administered to animals. Sensory and motor functions were evaluated by behavioral tests at 24. h after TBI. The p53-positive neurons were identified by double staining with cell-specific markers. Levels of mRNA encoding for p53-regulated genes (BAX, PUMA, Bcl-2 and p21) were measured by reverse transcription followed by real time-PCR from TBI animals without or with PFT-α/PFT-α (O) treatment. We found that PFT-α(O) (10. μM) enhanced neuronal survival against glutamate-induced cytotoxicity in vitro more effectively than PFT-α (10. μM). In vivo PFT-α (O) treatment enhanced functional recovery and decreased contusion volume at 24. h post-injury. Neuroprotection by PFT-α (O) treatment also reduced p53-positive neurons in the cortical contusion region. In addition, p53-regulated PUMA mRNA levels at 8. h were significantly reduced by PFT-α (O) administration after TBI. PFT-α (O) treatment also decreased phospho-p53 positive neurons in the cortical contusion region. Our data suggest that PFT-α (O) provided a significant reduction of cortical cell death and protected neurons from glutamate-induced excitotoxicity in vitro, as well as improved neurological functional outcome and reduced brain injury in vivo via anti-apoptotic mechanisms. The inhibition of p53-induced apoptosis by PFT-α (O) provides a useful tool to evaluate reversible apoptotic mechanisms and may develop into a novel therapeutic strategy for TBI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-66
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Neurology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Apoptosis
  • Controlled cortical impact
  • P53
  • PFT-α oxygen analog
  • Pifithrin-α (PFT-α)
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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