Brain edema and intracranial hypertension are major complications of fulminant hepatic failure. We investigated the development of brain edema and monitored intracranial pressure in rabbits with toxic hepatitis induced by galactosamine. Using a gravimetric technique to assay small tissue samples, we found that brain water was increased in cortical grey matter, but not in subcortical, mesencephalic, and pontine white matter, or in the cerebellum. The proportion of water in cerebral grey matter in control animals was 80.96% ± 0.49% with significant elevations to 81.96% ± 0.47% and 82.95% ± 1.49% in mild and severe encephalopathy, respectively. This corresponds to mean increases in tissue volume of 5.5% and 11.7%. The hippocampal grey matter also accumulated water in severe encephalopathy with a 30% increase in mean tissue volume. The regional increase in brain water was confirmed by the wet-dry weight method. Neither hypotension, hypoxia, nor severe hypoglycemia were present to account for the edema. Intracranial pressure was monitored continuously in unanesthetized rabbits via an intraventricular cannula as encephalopathy developed. The pressure was normal in the mild stage, but was intermittently elevated in animals with severe encephalopathy. The normal range of intracranial pressure was 2-9 mmHe and the ranee or peak values in galactosamine-treated rabbits was 18-55 mmHg. The regional differences in brain water accumulation suggest that cellular swelling and abnormalities in the movement of water across the blood-brain barrier may account for the brain edema in this model.
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