Neuroprotective Effects of the Sonic Hedgehog Signaling Pathway in Ischemic Injury through Promotion of Synaptic and Neuronal Health

Cerebral ischemia is a common cerebrovascular condition which often induces neuronal apoptosis, leading to brain damage. The sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling pathway has been reported to be involved in ischemic stroke, but the underlying mechanisms have not been fully elucidated. In the present study, we demonstrated that expressions of Shh, Ptch, and Gli-1 were significantly downregulated at 24 h following oxygen-glucose deprivation (OGD) injury in neurons in vitro, effects which were associated with increasing numbers of apoptotic cells and reactive oxygen species generation. In addition, expressions of synaptic proteins (neuroligin and neurexin) were significantly downregulated at 8 h following OGD, also associated with concomitant neuronal apoptosis. Treatment with purmorphamine, a Shh agonist, increased Gli-1 in the nucleus of neurons and protected against OGD injury, whereas the Shh inhibitor, cyclopamine, produced the opposite effects. Activation of Shh signals promoted CREB and Akt phosphorylation; upregulated the expressions of BDNF, neuroligin, and neurexin; and decreased NF-κB phosphorylation following OGD. Notably, this activation of Shh signals was accompanied by improved neurobehavioral responses along with attenuations in edema and apoptosis at 48 h postischemic insult in rats. Taken together, these results demonstrate that activation of the Shh signaling pathway played a neuroprotective role in response to ischemic exposure via promotion of synaptic and neuronal health.

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