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The neuroblast and angioblast chemotaxic factor SDF-1 (CXCL12) expression is briefly up regulated by reactive astrocytes in brain following neonatal hypoxic-ischemic injury.BACKGROUND: Stromal cell-derived factor 1 (SDF-1 or CXCL12) is chemotaxic for CXCR4 expressing bone marrow-derived cells. It functions in brain embryonic development and in response to ischemic injury in helping guide neuroblast migration and vasculogenesis. In experimental adult stroke models SDF-1 is expressed perivascularly in the injured region up to 30 days after the injury, suggesting it could be a therapeutic target for tissue repair strategies. We hypothesized that SDF-1 would be expressed in similar temporal and spatial patterns following hypoxic-ischemic (HI) injury in neonatal brain. RESULTS: Twenty-five 7-day-old C57BL/J mice underwent HI injury. SDF-1 expression was up regulated up to 7 days after the injury but not at the later time points. The chief sites of SDF-1 up regulation were astrocytes, their foot processes along blood vessels and endothelial cells. CONCLUSION: The localization of SDF-1 along blood vessels in the HI injury zone suggests that these perivascular areas are where chemotaxic signaling for cellular recruitment originates and that reactive astrocytes are major mediators of this process. The associated endothelium is likely to be the site for vascular attachment and diapedesis of CXCR4 receptor expressing cells to enter the injured tissue. Here we show that, relative to adults, neonates have a significantly smaller window of opportunity for SDF-1 based vascular chemotaxic recruitment of bone marrow-derived cells. Therefore, without modification, following neonatal HI injury there is only a narrow period of time for endogenous SDF-1 mediated chemotaxis and recruitment of reparative cells, including exogenously administered stem/progenitor cells.