Neonatal encephalopathy resulting from HI (hypoxia–ischaemia) continues to be a significant cause of mortality and morbidity in infants and children, affecting 1–2/1000 live term births and up to 60% of pre-term births. In order to understand the pathophysiology of this insult, as well as design therapeutic interventions, it is important to establish a relevant animal model for pre-clinical studies. One of the most frequently used models of HI-induced brain damage in immature animals is the unilateral carotid ligation/hypoxia model, initially developed in our laboratory more than 30 years ago. The original model employed the postnatal day 7 rat, whose brain is representative of that of a late gestation, pre-term [32–36 weeks GA (gestational age)] human infant. We, and others, have employed this model to characterize the pathophysiological, biochemical/energetic and neuropathological events following HI, as well as the determination of the unique characteristics of the immature brain that define its vulnerability to, and outcome from, HI. In defining the cascade of events following HI, it has become possible to identify potential targets for intervention and neuroprotection. Currently, the only available therapeutic intervention for neonatal encephalopathy in the term asphyxiated infant is therapeutic hypothermia, although this must be initiated within 6 h of birth and is at best partially effective in moderately injured infants. Ongoing pre-clinical studies are necessary to determine the basis for the partial protection afforded by hypothermia as well as the design of adjunct therapies to improve the outcome. The present review highlights the importance of using a well-characterized and relevant animal model to continue to pursue translational research in neuroprotection for the infant brain.

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