Microglia/macrophages have been identified to be highly polarized after ischemia. Interestingly, the polarization of these microglia/macrophages varies immensely under differing disease conditions. Post-conditioning using sevoflurane, a volatile anesthetic, could provide long-term neuroprotection to neonatal rats after hypoxic-ischemic brain injury (HIBI). Thus, the current study aimed at investigating the effects of sevoflurane post-conditioning (SPC) on microglia/macrophage polarization after HIBI induction in neonatal rats. Additionally, we aimed at identifying the underpinning mechanisms specifically related to autophagy and lysosomal protease enzyme, cathepsin B. To develop a HIBI model, 7-day-old Sprague-Dawley rats underwent left common carotid artery ligation followed by 2 h of hypoxia. The role of microglia/macrophages in the neuroprotection conferred by SPC was examined by left-side intra-cerebroventricular injection with adenovirus vector carrying catB-GFP or rapamycin. The number of interleukin (IL)-1β+ cells, cathepsin B+ cells, light chain 3B positive (LC3B+) cells among ionized calcium binding adaptor molecule 1(Iba1+)cells to investigate microglia polarization, neuronal apoptosis to assess neuronal death in the acute phase were tested at 24 h after HIBI. Behavioral tests including suspension test, Morris water maze tests were performed to investigate the long-term effects of SPC, at 21 to 34 days post HIBI. Nissl staining and myelin basic protein (MBP) immunostaining to assess the long-term neuronal and myelin damage were performed at 34 days after HIBI. Based on the obtained results post HIBI, we observed the cells that were positive for IL-1β, cathepsin B, and LC3B among Iba1 positive cell population in the hippocampus were significantly decreased after SPC treatment. SPC significantly attenuated the HIBI-induced increase in neuronal apoptosis, improved long-term cognitive function, and attenuated HI-induced decrease of Nissl-positive cells and MBP expression. However, these trends were reversed by injection of adenovirus vector carrying catB-GFP and rapamycin. SPC attenuated microglia polarization towards neurotoxic phenotypes, alleviates neuronal death and axon demyelination after HIBI in neonatal rats by regulating microglia autophagy and cathepsin B expression, and therefore provided long-term cognitive, learning and memory protection.

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