Perinatal hypoxic-ischemic (HI)-related brain injury is an important cause of morbidity and long-standing disability in newborns. The only currently approved therapeutic strategy available to reduce brain injury in the newborn is hypothermia. Therapeutic hypothermia can only be used to treat HI encephalopathy in full-term infants and survivors remain at high risk for a wide spectrum of neurodevelopmental abnormalities as a result of residual brain injury. Therefore, there is an urgent need for adjunctive therapeutic strategies. Inflammation and neurovascular damage are important factors that contribute to the pathophysiology of HI-related brain injury and represent exciting potential targets for therapeutic intervention. In this review, we address the role of each component of the neurovascular unit (NVU) in the pathophysiology of HI-related injury in the neonatal brain. Disruption of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) observed in the early hours after an HI-related event is associated with a response at the basal lamina level, which comprises astrocytes, pericytes, and immune cells, all of which could affect BBB function to further exacerbate parenchymal injury. Future research is required to determine potential drugs that could prevent or attenuate neurovascular damage and/or augment repair. However, some studies have reported beneficial effects of hypothermia, erythropoietin, stem cell therapy, anti-cytokine therapy and metformin in ameliorating several different facets of damage to the NVU after HI-related brain injury in the perinatal period.
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