Detection of hypoxic cells with the 2-nitroimidazole, EF5, correlates with early redox changes in rat brain after perinatal hypoxia-ischemia

M. Bergeron, S. M. Evans, Frank R Sharp, C. J. Koch, E. M. Lord, D. M. Ferriero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The hypoxia-dependent activation of nitroheterocyclic drugs by cellular nitroreductases leads to the formation of intracellular adducts between the drugs and cellular macromolecules. Because this covalent binding is maximal in the absence of oxygen, detection of bound adducts provides an assay for estimating the degree of cellular hypoxia in vivo. Using a pentafluorinated derivative of etanidazole called EF5, we studied the distribution of EF5 adducts in seven-day-old rats subjected to different treatments which decrease the level of oxygen in the brain. EF5 solution was administered intraperitoneally 30 min prior to each treatment. The effect of acute and chronic hypoxia on EF5 adduct formation (binding) was studied in the brain of newborn rats exposed to global hypoxia (8% O2 for 30, 90 or 150 min) and in the brain of chronically hypoxic rat pups with congenital cardiac defects (Wistar Kyoto). The effect of combined hypoxia-ischemia was investigated in rat pups subjected to right carotid coagulation and concurrent exposure to 8% O2 for 30, 90 or 150 min. Brains were frozen immediately at the end of each treatment. Using a Cy3-conjugated monoclonal mouse antibody (ELK3-51) raised against EF5 adducts, hypoxic cells within brain regions were visualized by fluorescence immunocytochemistry. Brains from controls or vehicle-injected animals showed no EF5 binding. Notably, brains from animals which were chronically hypoxemic as a result of congenital cardiac defects also showed no EF5 binding. A short exposure (30 min) to hypoxia or to combined hypoxia- ischemia resulted in increased background stain and few scattered cells with low-intensity immunostaining. Acute hypoxia exposure of at least 90-150 min, which in this age animal does not result in frank cellular damage, produced patchy areas of low- to moderate-intensity fluorescence scattered throughout the brain. In contrast, 90-150 min of hypoxia-ischemia was associated with intense immunofluorescence in the hemisphere ipsilateral to the carotid occlusion, with a pattern similar to that reported previously for the histological damage seen in this model. This study provides a sensitive method for the evaluation of the level of oxygen depletion in brain tissue after neonatal hypoxia-ischemia, at times much earlier than any method demonstrates apoptotic or necrotic cell death. Since the level of in vivo formation of macromolecular adducts of EF5 depends on the degree of oxygen depletion in a tissue, intracellular EF5 binding may serve as a useful marker of regional cellular vulnerability and redox state after brain injury resulting from hypoxia-ischemia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1357-1366
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain
  • EF5
  • Hypoxia
  • Ischemia
  • Neonatal
  • Redox

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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