Theta-Burst Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Promotes Stroke Recovery by Vascular Protection and Neovascularization

Theranostics. 10(26):12090-12110, 2020.

Zong X; Li Y; Liu C; Qi W; Han D; Tucker L; Dong Y; Hu S; Yan X; Zhang Q

The integrity and function of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is compromised after stroke. The current study was performed to examine potential beneficial effects and underlying mechanisms of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on angiogenesis and vascular protection, function, and repair following stroke, which are largely unknown.

Using a rat photothrombotic (PT) stroke model, continuous theta-burst rTMS was administered once daily to the infarcted hemisphere for 5 min, beginning 3 h after PT stroke. This treatment was applied for 6 days. BBB integrity, blood flow, vascular associated proteins, angiogenesis, integrity of neuronal morphology and structure, and behavioral outcome were measured and analyzed at 6 and/or 22 days after PT stroke.

We report that rTMS significantly mitigated BBB permeabilization and preserved important BBB components ZO-1, claudin-5, occludin, and caveolin-1 from PT-induced degradation. Damage to vascular structure, morphology, and perfusion was ameliorated by rTMS, resulting in improved local tissue oxygenation. This was accompanied with robust protection of critical vascular components and upregulation of regulatory factors. A complex cytokine response was induced by PT, particularly at the late phase. Application of rTMS modulated this response, ameliorating levels of cytokines related to peripheral immune cell infiltration. Further investigation revealed that rTMS promoted and sustained post-ischemic angiogenesis long-term and reduced apoptosis of newborn and existing vascular endothelial cells. Application of rTMS also inhibited PT-induced excessive astrocyte-vasculature interactions and stimulated an A1 to A2 shift in vessel-associated astrocytes. Mechanistic studies revealed that rTMS dramatically increased levels of PDGFRbeta associated with A2 astrocytes and their adjacent vasculature. As well, A2 astrocytes displayed marked amplification of the angiogenesis-related factors VEGF and TGFbeta. PT induced a rise in vessel-associated expression of HIF-1alpha that was starkly intensified by rTMS treatment. Finally, rTMS preserved neuronal morphology, synaptic structure integrity and behavioral outcome.

These results indicate that rTMS can exert powerful protective and restorative effects on the peri-infarct microvasculature after PT stroke by, in part, promoting HIF-1alpha signaling and shifting vessel-associated astrocytic polarization to the A2 phenotype. This study provides further support for the potent protective effects of rTMS in the context of ischemic stroke, and these findings implicate vascular repair and protection as an important underlying phenomenon.