Metyrapone, an inhibitor of glucocorticoid production, reduces brain injury induced by focal and global ischemia and seizures

Virginia L. Smith-Swintosky, L. Creed Pettigrew, Robert M. Sapolsky, Chris Phares, Susan D. Craddock, Sheila M. Brooke, Mark P. Mattson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence indicates that glucocorticoids (GCs), produced in response to physical/emotional stressors, can exacerbate brain damage resulting from cerebral ischemia and severe seizure activity. However, much of the supporting evidence has come from studies employing nonphysiological paradigms in which adrenalectomized rats were compared with those exposed to constant GC concentrations in the upper physiological range. Cerebral ischemia and seizures can induce considerable GC secretion. We now present data from experiments using metyrapone (an 11-β-hydroxylase inhibitor of GC production), which demonstrate that the GC stress-response worsens subsequent brain damage induced by ischemia and seizures in rats. Three different paradigms of brain injury were employed: middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) model of focal cerebral ischemia; four-vessel occlusion (4VO) model of transient global forebrain ischemia; and kainic acid (KA)-induced (seizure- mediated) excitotoxic damage to hippocampal CA3 and CA1 neurons. Metyrapone (200 mg/kg body wt) was administered systemically in a single i.p. bolus 30 min prior to each insult. In the MCAO model, metyrapone treatment significantly reduced infarct volume and also preserved cells within the infarct. In the 4VO model, neuronal loss in region CA1 of the hippocampus was significantly reduced in rats administered metyrapone. Seizure-induced damage to hippocampal pyramidal neurons (assessed by cell counts and immunochemical analyses of cytoskeletal alterations) was significantly reduced in rats administered metyrapone. Measurement of plasma levels of corticosterone (the species-typical GC of rats) after each insult showed that metyrapone significantly suppressed the injury-induced rise in levels of circulating corticosterone. These findings indicate that endogenous corticosterone contributes to the basal level of brain injury resulting from cerebral ischemia and excitotoxic seizure activity and suggest that drugs that suppress glucocorticoid production may be effective in reducing brain damage in stroke and epilepsy patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-598
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996


  • Alzheimer's
  • Corticosterone
  • Excitotoxicity
  • Hippocampus
  • Kainic acid
  • Microtubule-associated proteins
  • Middle cerebral artery occlusion
  • Transient global forebrain ischemia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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