Activation of Sigma-1 Receptor Enhanced Pericyte Survival via the Interplay Between Apoptosis and Autophagy: Implications for Blood–Brain Barrier Integrity in Stroke

  • Yuan ZhangEmail author
  • Xiaotian Zhang
  • Qiangqiang Wei
  • Shuo Leng
  • Cai Li
  • Bing Han
  • Ying Bai
  • Huibin ZhangEmail author
  • Honghong YaoEmail author
Original Article


Stroke is a cerebrovascular disorder that affects many people worldwide. Pericytes play an important role in stroke progression and recovery. The sigma-1 receptor (σ-1R) signaling pathway has been suggested as having promising neuroprotective potential in treating stroke; however, whether σ-1R activation regulates pericyte function remains unknown. The aim of this study was to elucidate the role of σ-1R and a novel σ-1R agonist in pericytes following ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke animal model was induced by photothrombotic middle cerebral artery occlusion (pMCAO) in σ-1R knockout (KO) and wild-type (WT) mice. After pMCAO, there was significant pericyte loss and coverage in σ-1R KO mice compared with WT mice as determined using transmission electron microscopy, immunofluorescence staining, and western blot. Interestingly, a novel σ-1R agonist decreased infarct volume and blood–brain barrier damage with a concomitant amelioration of pericyte loss, as determined by western blot. Further studies indicated that cell apoptosis and autophagy were induced in an in vivo pMCAO ischemic stroke animal model and an in vitro oxygen glucose deprivation-treatment group. Inhibition of autophagy using a pharmacological approach significantly mitigated pericyte apoptosis, suggesting that autophagy was upstream of apoptosis in pericytes. Both in vivo and in vitro studies indicated that the σ-1R agonist significantly decreased cell apoptosis via inhibition of autophagy with a subsequent enhancement of pericyte survival. This study identified the unique roles for σ-1R in mediating pericyte survival via the regulation of the interplay between apoptosis and autophagy, suggesting that a novel σ-1R agonist may be a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of stroke patients.


Stroke Sigma-1 receptor Blood–brain barrier Pericyte Apoptosis Autophagy 


Funding Information

This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 81761138048, 81673410, and 81603090), Jiangsu Innovation & Entrepreneurship Talent Program, Jiangsu Innovation & Entrepreneurship Team Program, National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFA0104303), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Nos. 2242018K41007, 2242018K41059, 2242019K40133, and 2242019K40125).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All institutional and national guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals were followed.

Supplementary material

12975_2019_711_MOESM1_ESM.docx (7.4 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 7625 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pharmacology, School of MedicineSoutheast UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.PerMed Biomedicine InstituteShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Department of Medicinal ChemistryChina Pharmaceutical UniversityNanjingChina
  4. 4.Center of Interventional Radiology and Vascular Surgery, Department of Radiology, Zhongda Hospital, Medical SchoolSoutheast UniversityNanjingChina
  5. 5.Department of NeurologyRizhao Hospital of Traditional Chinese MedicineRizhaoChina
  6. 6.Center of Drug Discovery, State Key Laboratory of Natural MedicinesChina Pharmaceutical UniversityNanjingChina
  7. 7.Institute of Life Sciences, Key Laboratory of Developmental Genes and Human DiseaseSoutheast UniversityNanjingChina

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