BACKGROUND: Vasogenic edema dynamically accumulates in many brain disorders
associated with brain inflammation, with the critical step of edema exacerbation feared in patient care. Water entrance through blood-brain barrier (BBB) opening is thought to have a role in edema formation. Nevertheless, the mechanisms of edema resolution remain poorly understood. Because the water channel aquaporin 4 (AQP4) provides an important route for vasogenic edema resolution, we studied the time course of AQP4 expression to better understand its potential effect in countering the exacerbation of vasogenic edema. METHODS: Focal inflammation was induced in the rat brain by a lysolecithin injection and was evaluated at 1, 3, 7, 14 and 20 days using a combination of in vivo MRI with apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) measurements used as a marker of water content, and molecular and histological approaches for the quantification of AQP4 expression. Markers of active inflammation (macrophages, BBB permeability, and interleukin-1beta) and markers of scarring (gliosis) were also quantified. RESULTS: This animal model of brain inflammation demonstrated two phases of edema development: an initial edema build-up phase during active inflammation that peaked after 3 days (ADC increase) was followed by an edema resolution phase that lasted from 7 to 20 days post injection (ADC decrease) and was accompanied by glial scar formation. A moderate upregulation in AQP4 was observed during the build-up phase, but a much stronger transcriptional and translational level of AQP4 expression was observed during the secondary edema resolution phase. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that a time lag in AQP4 expression occurs such that the more significant upregulation was achieved only after a delay period. This change in AQP4 expression appears to act as an important determinant in the exacerbation of edema, considering that AQP4 expression is insufficient to counter the water influx during the build-up phase, while the second more pronounced but delayed upregulation is involved in the resolution phase. A better pathophysiological understanding of edema exacerbation, which is observed in many clinical situations, is crucial in pursuing new therapeutic strategies.