Neuroprotective Role of Acidosis in Ischemia: Review of the Preclinical Evidence

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Efforts to develop effective neuroprotective therapies for ischemic stroke have had little success to date. One promising approach to neuroprotection is ischemic postconditioning, which utilizes brief bouts of ischemia after acute ischemic stroke to elicit neuroprotection, although the mechanism is largely unknown. As the primary components of transient ischemia are local hypoxia and acidosis, and hypoxic postconditioning has had little success, it is possible that the acidosis component may be the primary driver. To address the evidence behind this, we performed a systematic review of preclinical studies focused on the neuroprotective role of transient acidosis after ischemia. Animal studies demonstrated that mild-to-moderate acidosis after ischemic events led to better functional neurologic outcomes with reduced infarct volumes, while severe acidosis often led to cerebral edema and worse functional outcomes. In vitro studies demonstrated that mild-to-moderate acidosis improves neuronal survival largely through two means: (1) inhibition of harmful superoxide formation in the excitotoxic pathway and (2) remodeling neuronal mitochondria to allow for efficient ATP production (i.e., oxidative phosphorylation), even in the absence of oxygen. Similar to the animal studies, acidotic postconditioning in humans would entail short cycles of carbon dioxide inhalation, which has already been demonstrated to be safe as part of a hypercapnic challenge when measuring cerebrovascular reactivity. Due to the preclinical efficacy of acidotic postconditioning, its relatively straightforward translation into humans, and the growing need for neuroprotective therapies, future preclinical studies should focus on filling the current knowledge gaps that are currently restricting the development of phase I/II clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6684-6696
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Neurobiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Acidosis
  • Acidotic
  • Conditioning
  • Ischemic
  • Neuroprotection
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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