Excitatory amino acids (EAA) and particularly glutamate toxicity have been implicated in the pathogenesis of neuronal injury occurring in bacterial meningitis by activating the N-methyl-d aspartate (NMDA) receptor complex. Here, we evaluated the effect of adjuvant treatment with the antitussive drug dextromethorphan (DM), a non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist with neuroprotective potential, in an infant rat model of pneumococcal meningitis. The experiments were carried out in postnatal day 6 (P6) and 11 (P11) animals. Pharmacokinetics of DM and its major metabolite dextrorphan (DO) were performed for dose finding. In our study, DM did not alter clinical parameters (clinical score, motor activity, incidence of seizures, spontaneous mortality) and cortical neuronal injury but increased the occurrence of ataxia (P < 0.0001). When DM treatment was started at the time of infection (DM i.p. 15 mg/kg at 0, 4, 8 and 16 hours (h) post infection) in P11 animals, an aggravation of apoptotic neuronal death in the hippocampal dentate gyrus was found (P < 0.05). When treatment was initiated during acute pneumococcal meningitis (DM i.p. 15 mg/kg at 12 and 15 h and 7.5 mg/kg at 18 and 21 h after infection), DM had no effect on the extent of brain injury but reduced the occurrence of seizures (P < 0.03). We conclude that in this infant rat model of pneumococcal meningitis interference of the EEA and NMDA pathway using DM causes ataxia, attenuates epileptic seizures and increases hippocampal apoptosis, but is not effective in protecting the brain from injury.
Institute for Infectious Diseases, University of Bern, Friedbuhlstrasse 51, PO Box 61, CH-3010 Bern, Switzerland.