White matter injury but not germinal matrix hemorrhage induces elevated osteopontin expression in human preterm brains

Gisela Nilsson, Ana A. Baburamani, Mary A. Rutherford, Changlian Zhu, Carina Mallard, Henrik Hagberg, Regina Vontell, Xiaoyang Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Osteopontin (OPN) is a matricellular protein that mediates various physiological functions and is implicated in neuroinflammation, myelination, and perinatal brain injury. However, its expression in association with brain injury in preterm infants is unexplored. Here we examined the expression of OPN in postmortem brains of preterm infants and explored how this expression is affected in brain injury. We analyzed brain sections from cases with white matter injury (WMI) and cases with germinal matrix hemorrhage (GMH) and compared them to control cases having no brain injury. WMI cases displayed moderate to severe tissue injury in the periventricular and deep white matter that was accompanied by an increase of microglia with amoeboid morphology. Apart from visible hemorrhage in the germinal matrix, GMH cases displayed diffuse white matter injury in the periventricular and deep white matter. In non-injured preterm brains, OPN was expressed at low levels in microglia, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. OPN expression was significantly increased in regions with white matter injury in both WMI cases and GMH cases. The main cellular source of OPN in white matter injury areas was amoeboid microglia, although a significant increase was also observed in astrocytes in WMI cases. OPN was not expressed in the germinal matrix of any case, regardless of whether there was hemorrhage. In conclusion, preterm brain injury induces elevated OPN expression in microglia and astrocytes, and this increase is found in sites closely related to injury in the white matter regions but not with the hemorrhage site in the germinal matrix. Thus, it appears that OPN takes part in the inflammatory process in white matter injury in preterm infants, and these findings facilitate our understanding of OPN’s role under both physiological and pathological conditions in the human brain that may lead to greater elucidation of disease mechanisms and potentially better treatment strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number166
JournalActa neuropathologica communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Hemorrhage
  • Microglia
  • Osteopontin
  • Postmortem brain
  • Preterm
  • White matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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