Attributes of Astrocyte Response to Mechano-Stimulation by High-Rate Overpressure

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Virginia Tech


Blast neurotrauma represents a significant mode of traumatic injury to the brain. The incidence of blast neurotrauma is particularly high amongst military combat personnel and can be debilitating and endure clinically for years after injury is sustained. Mechanically, blast represents a unique and complex loading paradigm associated with compressive shock waves that propagate out from an explosive event and interact with the head and other organs through high-rate loading. When subjected to such insult, brain cells undergo characteristic injury responses which include neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, edema and persistent glial activation. These features of the injury have emerged as important mediators of the chronic brain damage that results from blast.

Astrocytes have emerged as a potential therapeutic target because of their ubiquitous roles in brain homeostasis, tissue integrity and cognitive function. This glial subtype has a characteristic reactive response to mechanical trauma of various modes. In this work, custom in vitro injury devices were used to characterize functional models of astrocyte reactivity to high-rate insult to study mechano-stimulation mechanisms associated with the reactive phenotype. The working hypothesis was that high-rate overpressure exposure would cause metabolic aberrations, cell junction changes, and adhesion signal transduction activation, all of which would contribute to astrocyte response and reactivity. Astrocyte cultures were exposed to a 20 psi high-rate overpressure scheme using an underwater explosion-driven device.

Astrocytes experienced dynamic energetic fluctuations in response to overpressure which were followed by the assumption of a classically defined reactive phenotype. Results indicated specific roles for cationic transduction, cell junction dynamics (gap junction and anchoring junctions) and downstream signal transduction mechanisms associated with adhesion alterations in onset of the astrocyte reactive phenotype. Investigation into adhesion signaling regulation by focal adhesion kinase in 2D and 3D cultures was also explored to better understand cellular reactivity as a function of extracellular environment. Additionally, another underwater in vitro device was built to study combination effects from overpressure and fluid shear associated with insult.

Overall, the combined studies offer multiple mechanisms by which to explore molecular targets for harnessing astrocytes' potential for repair after traumatic injury to the brain.



astrocyte, overpressure, reactivity, metabolism, cell junction, adhesion