Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are zinc-endopeptidases with multifactorial actions in central nervous system (CNS) physiology and pathology. Accumulating data suggest that MMPs have a deleterious role in stroke. By degrading neurovascular matrix, MMPs promote injury of the blood-brain barrier, edema and hemorrhage. By disrupting cell-matrix signaling and homeostasis, MMPs trigger brain cell death. Hence, there is a movement toward the development of MMP inhibitors for acute stroke therapy. But MMPs may have a different role during delayed phases after stroke. Because MMPs modulate brain matrix, they may mediate beneficial plasticity and remodeling during stroke recovery. Here, we show that MMPs participate in delayed cortical responses after focal cerebral ischemia in rats. MMP-9 is upregulated in peri-infarct cortex at 7-14 days after stroke and is colocalized with markers of neurovascular remodeling. Treatment with MMP inhibitors at 7 days after stroke suppresses neurovascular remodeling, increases ischemic brain injury and impairs functional recovery at 14 days. MMP processing of bioavailable VEGF may be involved because inhibition of MMPs reduces endogenous VEGF signals, whereas additional treatment with exogenous VEGF prevents MMP inhibitor-induced worsening of infarction. These data suggest that, contrary to MMP inhibitor therapies for acute stroke, strategies that modulate MMPs may be needed for promoting stroke recovery.
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