In several models of aging, microglia become more inflammatory and reactive to immune challenges. For example, peripheral LPS injection causes exaggerated microglial activation associated with prolonged sickness and depressive-like behavior in aged BALB/c mice. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which age-related amplified microglial activation was associated with reduced sensitivity to the anti-inflammatory and M2 promoting cytokines interleukin (IL)-10 and IL-4. In initial studies with adult mice, LPS induced a time-dependent increase in M1 and M2 mRNA profiles in microglia. Furthermore, peripheral LPS injection markedly increased surface expression of IL-4 receptor-alpha (IL-4Rα), but not IL-10 receptor-1 (IL-10R1) on microglia. In BV-2 cells, IL-4, but not IL-10, re-directed LPS-activated microglia towards an M2 phenotype. Based on these findings, comparisons of M1 and M2 activation profiles, induction of IL-4Rα, and sensitivity to IL-4 were determined in microglia from adult (3-4 mo) and aged (18-22 mo) mice. In aged microglia, LPS promoted an exaggerated and prolonged M1 and M2 profile compared to adults. Moreover, IL-4Rα protein was not increased on aged microglia following LPS injection. To determine the consequence of impaired IL-4Rα upregulation, adult and aged mice were injected with LPS and activated microglia were then isolated and treated ex vivo with IL-4. While ex vivo IL-4 induced an M2 profile in activated microglia from adult mice, activated microglia from aged mice retained a prominent M1 profile. These data indicate that activated microglia from aged mice are less sensitive to the anti-inflammatory and M2-promoting effects of IL-4.
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