Cerebral malaria (CM) is a multifactorial syndrome involving an exacerbated proinflammatory status, endothelial cell activation, coagulopathy, hypoxia, and accumulation of leukocytes and parasites in the brain microvasculature. Despite significant improvements in malaria control, 15% of mortality is still observed in CM cases, and 25% of survivors develop neurologic sequelae for life—even after appropriate antimalarial therapy. A treatment that ameliorates CM clinical signs, resulting in complete healing, is urgently needed. Previously, we showed a hyperbaric oxygen (HBO)-protective effect against experimental CM. Here, we provide molecular evidence that HBO targets brain endothelial cells by decreasing their activation and inhibits parasite and leukocyte accumulation, thus improving cerebral microcirculatory blood flow. HBO treatment increased the expression of aryl hydrocarbon receptor over hypoxia-inducible factor 1-α (HIF-1α), an oxygen-sensitive cytosolic receptor, along with decreased indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase 1 expression and kynurenine levels. Moreover, ablation of HIF-1α expression in endothelial cells in mice conferred protection against CM and improved survival. We propose that HBO should be pursued as an adjunctive therapy in CM patients to prolong survival and diminish deleterious proinflammatory reaction. Furthermore, our data support the use of HBO in therapeutic strategies to improve outcomes of non-CM disorders affecting the brain.

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