Spreading depolarizations (SDs) occur spontaneously in the cerebral cortex of subarachnoid hemorrhage, stroke or traumatic brain injury patients. Accumulating evidence prove that SDs exacerbate focal ischemic injury by converting zones of the viable but non-functional ischemic penumbra to the core region beyond rescue. Yet the SD-related mechanisms to mediate neurodegeneration remain poorly understood. Here we show in the cerebral cortex of isoflurane-anesthetized, young and old laboratory rats, that SDs propagating under ischemic penumbra-like conditions decrease intra and-extracellular tissue pH transiently to levels, which have been recognized to cause tissue damage. Further, tissue pH after the passage of each spontaneous SD event remains acidic for over 10 minutes. Finally, the recovery from SD-related tissue acidosis is hampered further by age. We propose that accumulating acid load is an effective mechanism for SD to cause delayed cell death in the ischemic nervous tissue, particularly in the aged brain.
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