To elucidate mechanisms underlying neuroprotective properties of astrocytes in brain ischemia, production of neurotrophic mediators was studied in astrocytes exposed to hypoxia/reoxygenation (H/R). Rat astrocytes subjected to H/R released increased amounts of interleukin (IL) 6 in a time-dependent manner, whereas levels of tumor necrosis factor and IL-1 remained undetectable. IL-6 transcripts were induced in hypoxia and the early phase of reoxygenation, whereas synthesis and release of IL-6 antigen/activity occurred during reoxygenation. Elevated levels of IL-6 mRNA were due, at least in part, to increased transcription, as shown by nuclear runoff analysis. The mechanism stimulating synthesis and release of IL-6 antigen by astrocytes was probably production of reactive oxygen intermediates (ROIs), which occurred within 15-20 minutes after placing hypoxia cultures back into normoxia, as the inhibitor diphenyl iodonium inhibited the burst of ROIs and subsequent IL-6 generation (blockade of nitric oxide formation had no effect on ROI generation or IL-6 production). Enhanced IL-6 generation was also observed in human astrocytoma cultures exposed to H/R. Survival of differentiated PC12 cells exposed to H/R was potentiated by conditioned medium from H/R astrocytes, an effect blocked by neutralizing anti-IL-6 antibody. In a gerbil model of brain ischemia, IL-6 activity was lower in the hippocampus, an area sensitive to ischemia, compared with IL-6 activity in the cortex, an area more resistant to ischemia. IL-6 antigen, demonstrated immunohistochemically, was increased in astrocytes from ischemic regions of gerbil brain. These data suggest that H/R enhances transcription of IL-6, resulting in increased translation and release of IL-6 antigen after the burst of ROI generated early during reoxygenation. Release of IL-6 from astrocytes could exert a paracrine neurotrophic effect in brain ischemia.

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