Sonic Hedgehog Agonist Protects Against Complex Neonatal Cerebellar Injury.

30 Nov 2018

The cerebellum undergoes rapid growth during the third trimester and is vulnerable to injury and deficient growth in infants born prematurely. Factors associated with preterm cerebellar hypoplasia include chronic lung disease and postnatal glucocorticoid administration. We modeled chronic hypoxemia and glucocorticoid administration in neonatal mice to study whole cerebellar and cell type-specific effects of dual exposure. Chronic neonatal hypoxia resulted in permanent cerebellar hypoplasia. This was compounded by administration of prednisolone as shown by greater volume loss and Purkinje cell death. In the setting of hypoxia and prednisolone, administration of a small molecule Smoothened-Hedgehog agonist (SAG) preserved cerebellar volume and protected against Purkinje cell death. Such protective effects were observed even when SAG was given as a one-time dose after dual insult. To model complex injury and determine cell type-specific roles for the hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) pathway, we performed conditional knockout of von Hippel Lindau (VHL) to hyperactivate HIF1α in cerebellar granule neuron precursors (CGNP) or Purkinje cells. Surprisingly, HIF activation in either cell type resulted in no cerebellar deficit. However, in mice administered prednisolone, HIF overactivation in CGNPs resulted in significant cerebellar hypoplasia, whereas HIF overactivation in Purkinje cells caused cell death. Together, these findings indicate that HIF primes both cell types for injury via glucocorticoids, and that hypoxia/HIF + postnatal glucocorticoid administration act on distinct cellular pathways to cause cerebellar injury. They further suggest that SAG is neuroprotective in the setting of complex neonatal cerebellar injury.