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Stroke. 2011 Sep;42(9):2605-10. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.110.607101. Epub 2011 Aug 18.

Carbon monoxide-activated Nrf2 pathway leads to protection against permanent focal cerebral ischemia.

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  • 1Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease, University of Florida, 1275 Center Dr, Biomed Sci J493, PO 100159, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA.



Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gaseous second messenger produced when heme oxygenase enzymes catabolize heme. We have demonstrated that CO can be therapeutic in ischemia-reperfusion brain injury; however, it is unclear whether CO can also offer protection in permanent ischemic stroke or what mechanism(s) underlies the effect. Heme oxygenase-1 neuroprotection was shown to be regulated by Nrf2; therefore, we investigated whether CO might partially exert neuroprotection by modulating the Nrf2 pathway.


To evaluate the potential protective effects of CO, we exposed male wild-type and Nrf2-knockout mice to 250 ppm CO or control air for 18 hours immediately after permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion. Infarct volume and neurologic deficits were assessed on day 7. Molecular mechanisms of Nrf2 pathway activation by CO were also investigated.


Mice exposed to CO after permanent ischemia had 29.6±12.6% less brain damage than did controls at 7 days, although amelioration in neurologic deficits did not reach significance. Additionally, 18-hour CO treatment led to Nrf2 dissociation from Keap1, nuclear translocation, increased binding activity of Nrf2 to heme oxygenase-1 antioxidant response elements, and elevated heme oxygenase-1 expression 6 to 48 hours after CO exposure. The CO neuroprotection was completely abolished in Nrf2-knockout mice.


Low-concentration CO represent a neuroprotective agent for combination treatment of ischemic stroke, and its beneficial effect would be at least partially mediated by activation of the Nrf2 pathway.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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