Blast exposure causes redistribution of phosphorylated neurofilament subunits in neurons of the adult rat brain.
There is little information on threshold levels and critical time factors for blast exposures, although brain damage after a blast has been established both clinically and experimentally. Moreover, the cellular pathophysiology of the brain response is poorly characterized. This study employs a rat model for blast exposure to investigate effects on the neuronal cytoskeleton. Exposure in the range of 154 kPa/198 dB or 240 kPa/202 dB has previously been shown neither to cause visual damage to the brain, nor to affect the neuronal populations, as revealed with routine histology. Here, the brains were investigated immunohistochemically from 2 h to 21 days after blast exposure. A monoclonal antibody was used which detects only the phosphorylated epitope of the heavy subunit of the neurofilament proteins (p-NFH). This epitope is normally restricted to axons, that is, not demonstrable in the perikarya. Eighteen hours after exposure in the 240-kPa/202-dB range, p-NFH immunoreactivity accumulated in neuronal perikarya in layers II-IV of the temporal cortex and of the cingulate and the piriform cortices, the dentate gyrus and the CA1 region of the hippocampus. At the same time, the p-NFH immunoreactivity disappeared from the axons and dendrites of cerebral cortex neurons. The most pronounced immunostaining of neuronal perikarya was found in the hemisphere, which faced the blast source. The perikaryal accumulation of p-NFH was present also at 7 days but the neuronal perikarya had become negative at 21 days, at which time the axons again displayed p-NFH immunoreactivity. Exposure in the range of 154 kPa/198 dB caused similar, although less marked accumulation of p-NFH immunoreactivity in the neuronal perikarya. The findings are interpreted to show a dephosphorylation of NFHs in axons and dendrites and a piling up of p-NFHs in the perikarya due to disturbed axonal transport.