Background: Interleukin 1 (IL-1) is a key mediator of immune responses in health and disease. Although classically the function of IL-1 has been studied in the systemic immune system, research in the past decade has revealed analogous roles in the CNS where the cytokine can contribute to the neuroinflammation and neuropathology seen in a number of neurodegenerative diseases. In Alzheimer's disease (AD), for example, pre-clinical and clinical studies have implicated IL-1 in the progression of a pathologic, glia-mediated pro-inflammatory state in the CNS. The glia-driven neuroinflammation can lead to neuronal damage, which, in turn, stimulates further glia activation, potentially propagating a detrimental cycle that contributes to progression of pathology. A prediction of this neuroinflammation hypothesis is that increased IL-1 signaling in vivo would correlate with increased severity of AD-relevant neuroinflammation and neuronal damage.
Methods: To test the hypothesis that increased IL-1 signaling predisposes animals to beta-amyloid (Abeta)-induced damage, we used IL-1 receptor antagonist Knock-Out (IL1raKO) and wild-type (WT) littermate mice in a model that involves intracerebroventricular infusion of human oligomeric Abeta1-42. This model mimics many features of AD, including robust neuroinflammation, Abeta plaques, synaptic damage and neuronal loss in the hippocampus. IL1raKO and WT mice were infused with Abeta for 28 days, sacrificed at 42 days, and hippocampal endpoints analyzed.
Results: IL1raKO mice showed increased vulnerability to Abeta-induced neuropathology relative to their WT counterparts. Specifically, IL1raKO mice exhibited increased mortality, enhanced microglial activation and neuroinflammation, and more pronounced loss of synaptic markers. Interestingly, Abeta-induced astrocyte responses were not significantly different between WT and IL1raKO mice, suggesting that enhanced IL-1 signaling predominately affects microglia.
Conclusion: Our data are consistent with the neuroinflammation hypothesis whereby increased IL-1 signaling in AD enhances glia activation and leads to an augmented neuroinflammatory process that increases the severity of neuropathologic sequelae.