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J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2007 May;27(5):998-1009. Epub 2006 Oct 11.

Rho-kinase inhibition acutely augments blood flow in focal cerebral ischemia via endothelial mechanisms.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, Stroke and Neurovascular Regulation Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129, USA.


Rho-kinase is a serine threonine kinase that increases vasomotor tone via its effects on both endothelium and smooth muscle. Rho-kinase inhibition reduces cerebral infarct size in wild type, but not endothelial nitric oxide synthase deficient (eNOS-/-) mice. The mechanism may be related to Rho-kinase activation under hypoxic/ischemic conditions and impaired vasodilation because of downregulation of eNOS activity. To further implicate Rho-kinase in impaired vascular relaxation during hypoxia/ischemia, we exposed isolated vessels from rat and mouse to 60 mins of hypoxia, and showed that hypoxia reversibly abolished acetylcholine-induced eNOS-dependent relaxation, and that Rho-kinase inhibitor hydroxyfasudil partially preserved this relaxation during hypoxia. We, therefore, hypothesized that if hypoxia-induced Rho-kinase activation acutely impairs vasodilation in ischemic cortex, in vivo, then Rho-kinase inhibitors would acutely augment cerebral blood flow (CBF) as a mechanism by which they reduce infarct size. To test this, we studied the acute cerebral hemodynamic effects of Rho-kinase inhibitors in ischemic core and penumbra during distal middle cerebral artery occlusion (dMCAO) in wild-type and eNOS-/- mice using laser speckle flowmetry. When administered 60 mins before or immediately after dMCAO, Rho-kinase inhibitors hydroxyfasudil and Y-27632 reduced the area of severely ischemic cortex. However, hydroxyfasudil did not reduce the area of CBF deficit in eNOS-/- mice, suggesting that its effect on CBF within the ischemic cortex is primarily endothelium-dependent, and not mediated by its direct vasodilator effect on vascular smooth muscle. Our results suggest that Rho-kinase negatively regulates eNOS activity in acutely ischemic brain, thereby worsening the CBF deficit. Therefore, rapid nontranscriptional upregulation of eNOS activity by small molecule inhibitors of Rho-kinase may be a viable therapeutic approach in acute stroke.

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