Background On the basis of the contradiction between data on experimental head trauma showing oxidative stress-mediated cerebral tissue damage and failure of the majority of clinical trials using free radical scavenger drugs, we monitored the time-course changes of malondialdehyde (MDA, an index of cell lipid peroxidation), ascorbate, and dephosphorylated ATP catabolites in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of traumatic brain-injured patients.
Methods CSF samples were obtained from 20 consecutive patients suffering from severe brain injury. All patients were comatose, with a Glasgow Coma Scale on admission of 6±1. The first CSF sample for each patient was collected within a mean value of 2.95 hours from trauma (SD=1.98), after the insertion of a ventriculostomy catheter for the continuous monitoring of intracranial pressure. During the next 48 hours, CSF was withdrawn from each patient once every 6 hours. All samples were analyzed by an ion-pairing high-performance liquid chromatographic method for the simultaneous determination of MDA, ascorbic acid, hypoxanthine, xanthine, uric acid, inosine, and adenosine.
Results In comparison with values recorded in 10 herniated-lumbar-disk, noncerebral control patients, data showed that all CSF samples of brain-injured patients had high values (0.226 μmol/L; SD=0.196) of MDA (undetectable in samples of control patients) and decreased ascorbate levels (96.25 μmol/L; SD=31.74), already at the time of first withdrawal at the time of hospital admission. MDA was almost constant in the next two withdrawals and tended to decrease thereafter, although 48 hours after hospital admission, a mean level of 0.072 μmol/L CSF (SD=0.026) was still recorded. The ascorbate level was normalized 42 hours after hospital admission. Changes in the CSF values of ATP degradation products (oxypurines and nucleosides) suggested a dramatic alteration of neuronal energy metabolism after traumatic brain injury.
Conclusions On the whole, these data demonstrate the early onset of oxygen radical-mediated oxidative stress, proposing a valid explanation for the failure of clinical trials based on the administration of oxygen free radical scavenger drugs and suggesting a possible rationale for testing the efficacy of lipid peroxidation “chain breakers” in future clinical trials.