Assessing the impact of cerebral injury after cardiac surgery: Will determining the mechanism reduce this injury?

William A. Baumgartner, Peter L. Walinsky, Jorge D. Salazar, Elaine E. Tseng, Malcolm V. Brock, John R. Doty, J. Mark Redmond, Mary E. Blue, Maura A. Goldsborough, Juan C. Troncoso, Michael V. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Background. Central nervous system dysfunction continues to produce significant morbidity and associated mortality in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Using a closed-chest canine cardiopulmonary bypass model, dogs underwent 2 h of hypothermic circulatory arrest (HCA) at 18°C, followed by resuscitation and recovery for 3 days. Animals were assessed functionally by a species-specific behavioral scale, histologically for patterns of selective neuronal necrosis, biochemically by analysis of microdialysis effluent, and by receptor autoradiography for N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor subtype expression. Results. Using a selective NMDA (glutamate) receptor antagonist (MK801) and an AMPA antagonist (NBQX), glutamate excitotoxicity in the development of HCA-induced brain injury was documented and validated. A microdialysis technique was employed to evaluate the role of nitric oxide (NO) in neuronal cell death. Arginine plus oxygen is converted to NO plus citrulline (CIT) by the action of NO synthase (nNOS). CIT recovery in the cerebrospinal fluid and from canine cortical homogenates increased during HCA and reperfusion. These studies demonstrated that neurotoxicity after HCA involves a significant and early induction of nNOS expression, and neuronal processes leading to widespread augmentation of NO production in the brain. To further investigate the production of excitatory amino acids in the brain, we hypothesized the following scenario: HCA→ ↑ glutamate, ↑ aspartate, ↑ glycine→ ↑ intracellular Ca2+→, ↑ NO + CIT. Using the same animal preparation, we demonstrated that HCA caused increased intracerebral glutamate and aspartate that persists up to 20 h post-HCA. HCA also resulted in CIT (NO) production, causing a continued and delayed neurologic injury. Confirmatory evidence of the role of NO was demonstrated by a further experiment using a specific nNOS inhibitor, 7-nitroindazole. Animals underwent 2 h of HCA, and then were evaluated both physiologically and for NO production. 7-Nitroindazole reduced CIT (NO) production by 58.4 ± 28.3%. In addition, dogs treated with this drug had superior neurologic function compared with untreated HCA controls. Conclusions. These experiments have documented the role of glutamate excitotoxicity in neurologic injury and have implicated NO as a significant neurotoxin causing necrosis and apoptosis. Continued research into the pathophysiologic mechanisms involved in cerebral injury will eventually yield a safe and reliable neuroprotectant strategy. Specific interventional agents will include glutamate receptor antagonists and specific neuronal NO synthase inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1871-1873
Number of pages3
JournalAnnals of Thoracic Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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