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The flavonoid quercetin and its potential as neuroprotectant in the therapy of acute traumatic CNS Injury : an experimental study



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Every year, several thousand individuals suffer spinal cord injury (SCI) in North America, while 1.5 million suffer traumatic brain injury in the U.S.A. alone. Primary mechanical trauma to the CNS is followed by a complex pathology, including vascular dysregulation, ischemia, edema and traumatic hemorrhage. Secondary damage is to a large extent caused by oxidative stress and inflammatory processes, resulting in necrosis and apoptosis of neural cells. If secondary tissue injury could be limited by interference with any of the pathomechanisms involved, preservation of structure and function would increase the potential for functional recovery. Experiments performed in other laboratories have shown that the polyphenolic flavonoid quercetin acts as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, reduces edema formation and apoptotic cell death. Quercetin is also an excellent iron chelator. This action profile suggested a high therapeutic potential for acute CNS trauma. Therefore, I used models of both spinal cord injury and head trauma in adult male rats to test the hypothesis that administration of quercetin is beneficial for the therapy of acute traumatic CNS injury. While the primary focus of my work was on therapy of acute traumatic spinal cord injury, quercetin was also evaluated in the settings of chronic SCI and acute head trauma. I found that, in a rat model of mid-thoracic spinal cord compression injury, 1) administration of quercetin, starting 1 hr after injury and continued every 12 hr, improved recovery of motor function in the hind limbs in more than half of the injured animals to a degree that allowed previously paraplegic animals to step or walk. The minimum quercetin dose that was efficacious was 5 µmol/kg. The minimum treatment duration for optimal outcome was determined to be 3 days. In control animals, some spontaneous recovery of motor function did occur, but never to an extent that allowed animals to step or walk. Quercetin administration was associated with more efficient iron clearance from the site of injury, decreased inflammatory response as reflected in decrease of myeloperoxidase activity and decreased apoptosis of neural cells at the site of injury. 2) Quercetin administered in the same injury model as late as 2 weeks after injury, given in a higher dose than that used for treatment in the acute phase, still resulted in significant recovery of motor function in 40% of the injured animals, although at a lower level of performance, when compared to early onset of treatment. 3) Quercetin administered after moderate fluid percussion brain injury resulted in decreased oxidative stress, as reflected in higher tissue glutathione levels at the site of injury. In animals receiving quercetin, the amplitude of compound action potentials was significantly better maintained at 24 hr and 72 hr after injury than in saline-treated control animals. My experiments have shown that the flavonoid quercetin is neuroprotective in a rat model of brain trauma and in a rat model of spinal cord injury. My data show that administration of quercetin after CNS trauma promotes iron clearance, decreases oxidative stress and inflammation. Quercetin also decreases apoptotic cell death following neurotrauma. These results suggest that quercetin may be a valuable adjunct in the therapy of acute CNS trauma. There is a possibility that administration of quercetin may be beneficial even in certain settings of chronic CNS trauma. These conclusions are based solely on the results from animal experiments. However, the fact that few adverse reactions have been noted to date in either animal experiments or human trials targeting other diseases is encouraging for the progression to human clinical trials for patients with spinal cord injury.



head trauma, animal models, oxidative stress, recovery, spinal cord injury



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Anatomy and Cell Biology


Anatomy and Cell Biology


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