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Neuroscience. 1990;36(3):589-99.

Systemic administration of MK-801 protects against N-methyl-D-aspartate- and quisqualate-mediated neurotoxicity in perinatal rats.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Medical School, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48104.


MK-801, a non-competitive antagonist of N-methyl-D-aspartate-type glutamate receptors, was tested for its ability to antagonize excitotoxic actions of N-methyl-D-aspartate or quisqualic acid injected into the brains of seven-day-old rats. Stereotaxic injection of N-methyl-D-aspartate (25 nmol/0.5 microliters) or quisqualic acid (100 nmol/1.0 microliter) into the corpus striatum under ether anesthesia consistently produced severe unilateral neuronal necrosis in the basal ganglia, dorsal hippocampus and overlying neocortex. The distribution of the damage corresponded to the topography of glutamate receptors in the vulnerable regions demonstrated by previous autoradiographic studies. N-Methyl-D-aspartate produced severe, confluent neuronal destruction while quisqualic acid typically caused more selective neuronal necrosis. Intraperitoneal administration of MK-801 (0.1-1.0 mg/kg) 30 min before N-methyl-D-aspartate injection had a prominent dose-dependent neuroprotective effects as assessed morphometrically by comparison of bilateral striatal, hippocampal and cerebral hemisphere cross-sectional areas five days later. A 1 mg/kg dose of MK-801 given as pre-treatment completely protected the infant brain. The same dose of MK-801 was also completely protective when administered 30 or 40 min after N-methyl-D-aspartate and afforded partial protection when given 2 h later. MK-801 pre-treatment also prevented the electrically confirmed behavioral seizures induced by N-methyl-D-aspartate. The drug significantly reduced striatal but not hippocampal or neocortical injury when given as two doses (1 mg/kg) 30 min prior to and immediately following quisqualic acid injection. The data indicate that systemic administration of MK-801 can prevent N-methyl-D-aspartate-induced neuronal injury in perinatal rat brain even when administered after the initial insult. MK-801 also partially antagonized quisqualic acid-mediated neurotoxicity, suggesting that quisqualic acid-induced toxicity is, in part, mediated through N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation. The sensitivity of the developing brain to the toxicity of N-methyl-D-aspartate provides a sensitive and reproducible in vivo model for exploring these issues and for screening prospective neuroprotective drugs that act at the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-channel complex.

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