Background: Interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β) and its key regulator, the inflammasome, are suspected to play a role in the neuroinflammation observed in Alzheimer's disease (AD); no conclusive data are nevertheless available in AD patients.
Results: mRNA for inflammasome components (NLRP1, NLRP3, PYCARD, caspase 1, 5 and 8) and downstream effectors (IL-1β, IL-18) was up-regulated in severe and MILD AD. Monocytes co-expressing NLRP3 with caspase 1 or caspase 8 were significantly increased in severe AD alone, whereas those co-expressing NLRP1 and NLRP3 with PYCARD were augmented in both severe and MILD AD. Activation of the NLRP1 and NLRP3 inflammasomes in AD was confirmed by confocal microscopy proteins co-localization and by the significantly higher amounts of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β and IL-18 being produced by monocytes. In MCI, the expression of NLRP3, but not the one of PYCARD or caspase 1 was increased, indicating that functional inflammasomes are not assembled in these individuals: this was confirmed by lack of co-localization and of proinflammatory cytokines production.
Conclusions: The activation of at least two different inflammasome complexes explains AD-associated neuroinflammation. Strategies targeting inflammasome activation could be useful in the therapy of AD.