Background: Microglia, the resident macrophage-like cells in the brain, regulate innate immune responses in the CNS to protect neurons. However, excessive activation of microglia contributes to neurodegenerative diseases. Corticosteroids are potent modulators of inflammation and mediate their effects by binding to mineralocorticoid receptors (MR) and glucocorticoid receptors (GR). Here, the coordinated activities of GR and MR on the modulation of the nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) pathway in murine BV-2 microglial cells were studied.
Methods: BV-2 cells were treated with different corticosteroids in the presence or absence of MR and GR antagonists. The impact of the glucocorticoid-activating enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) was determined by incubating cells with 11-dehydrocorticosterone, with or without selective inhibitors. Expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor receptor 2 (TNFR2), and 11β-HSD1 mRNA was analyzed by RT-PCR and IL-6 protein expression by ELISA. NF-κB activation and translocation upon treatment with various corticosteroids were visualized by western blotting, immunofluorescence microscopy, and translocation assays.
Results: GR and MR differentially regulate NF-κB activation and neuroinflammatory parameters in BV-2 cells. By converting inactive 11-dehydrocorticosterone to active corticosterone, 11β-HSD1 essentially modulates the coordinated action of GR and MR. Biphasic effects were observed for 11-dehydrocorticosterone and corticosterone, with an MR-dependent potentiation of IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) expression and NF-κB activation at low/moderate concentrations and a GR-dependent suppression at high concentrations. The respective effects were confirmed using the MR ligand aldosterone and the antagonist spironolactone as well as the GR ligand dexamethasone and the antagonist RU-486. NF-κB activation could be blocked by spironolactone and the inhibitor of NF-κB translocation Cay-10512. Moreover, an increased expression of TNFR2 was observed upon treatment with 11-dehydrocorticosterone and aldosterone, which was reversed by 11β-HSD1 inhibitors and/or spironolactone and Cay-10512.
Conclusions: A tightly coordinated GR and MR activity regulates the NF-κB pathway and the control of inflammatory mediators in microglia cells. The balance of GR and MR activity is locally modulated by the action of 11β-HSD1, which is upregulated by pro-inflammatory mediators and may represent an important feedback mechanism involved in resolution of inflammation.