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Eur J Pharmacol. 2007 Sep 10;570(1-3):57-65. Epub 2007 Jun 5.

Neuroprotection in focal cerebral ischemia owing to delayed treatment with melanocortins.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Section of Pharmacology, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy.


In gerbils subjected to transient global cerebral ischemia, melanocortin peptides produce long-lasting protection with a broad time window, and through the activation of central nervous system melanocortin MC(4) receptors. Here we aimed to investigate whether melanocortins are neuroprotective also in a rat model of focal cerebral ischemia induced by intrastriatal microinjection of endothelin-1. The vasoconstrictor agent endothelin-1 caused a significant impairment in spatial learning and memory, as well as in sensory-motor orientation and limb use, associated with severe striatal morphological damage including intense neuronal death and an almost complete myelin degradation. Treatment of ischemic rats with a nanomolar dose (340 microg/kg/day i.p. for 11 days, beginning 3 h or 9 h after endothelin-1 microinjection) of the melanocortin analog [Nle(4), D-Phe(7)]alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (NDP-alpha-MSH) significantly reduced striatal damage, and improved subsequent functional recovery, with all scheduled NDP-alpha-MSH treatments. Pharmacological blockade of melanocortin MC(4) receptors prevented the protective effect of NDP-alpha-MSH. Our findings give evidence that melanocortins are neuroprotective, with a broad time window, also in a severe model of focal cerebral ischemia, and suggest that melanocortin MC(4) receptor agonists could produce neuroprotection in different experimental models of ischemic stroke.

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