To evaluate the reversibility of neural function in the brainstem following ischemia, we investigated the effect of transient brainstem ischemia on the brainstem auditory evoked potential in gerbils. Brainstem ischemia was produced by bilateral extracranial occlusion of vertebral arteries. Local cerebral blood flow was measured by quantitative autoradiography after 5 min of ischemia and was reduced to less than 2 ml/100 g per min in the pons and lower midbrain, indicating severe and reproducible brainstem ischemia. During brainstem ischemia, brainstem auditory evoked potential waveforms disappeared completely. After a brief ischemic insult (5 min), all four brainstem auditory evoked potential components recovered to normal. After longer ischemic insults (10-30 min), brainstem auditory evoked potential components never recovered to normal. Microtubule-associated protein 2 immunoreactivity revealed differential vulnerability of the acoustic relay nuclei in the brainstem. Neurons in the lateral lemniscus were most vulnerable, followed in order by neurons in the trapezoid body, the superior olive and the cochlear nucleus. We also demonstrated a close relationship between the reversibility of ischemia-induced changes on brainstem auditory evoked potential and ischemic lesions of these relay nuclei. These data may be useful for evaluating the therapeutic window of thrombolytic therapy during acute vertebrobasilar occlusion.
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