Introduction: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is associated with the accumulation of β-amyloid (Aβ) as senile plaques in the brain, thus leading to neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment. Plaque formation depends not merely on the amount of generated Aβ peptides, but more importantly on their effective removal. Chronic infections with neurotropic pathogens, most prominently the parasite Toxoplasma (T.) gondii, are frequent in the elderly, and it has been suggested that the resulting neuroinflammation may influence the course of AD. In the present study, we investigated how chronic T. gondii infection and resulting neuroinflammation affect plaque deposition and removal in a mouse model of AD.
Results: Chronic infection with T. gondii was associated with reduced Aβ and plaque load in 5xFAD mice. Upon infection, myeloid-derived CCR2(hi) Ly6C(hi) monocytes, CCR2(+) Ly6C(int), and CCR2(+) Ly6C(low) mononuclear cells were recruited to the brain of mice. Compared to microglia, these recruited mononuclear cells showed highly increased phagocytic capacity of Aβ ex vivo. The F4/80(+) Ly6C(low) macrophages expressed high levels of Triggering Receptor Expressed on Myeloid cells 2 (TREM2), CD36, and Scavenger Receptor A1 (SCARA1), indicating phagocytic activity. Importantly, selective ablation of CCR2(+) Ly6C(hi) monocytes resulted in an increased amount of Aβ in infected mice. Elevated insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9), as well as immunoproteasome subunits β1i/LMP2, β2i/MECL-1, and β5i/LMP7 mRNA levels in the infected brains indicated increased proteolytic Aβ degradation. Particularly, LMP7 was highly expressed by the recruited mononuclear cells in the brain, suggesting a novel mechanism of Aβ clearance.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that chronic Toxoplasma infection ameliorates β-amyloidosis in a murine model of AD by activation of the immune system, specifically by recruitment of Ly6C(hi) monocytes and by enhancement of phagocytosis and degradation of soluble Aβ. Our findings provide evidence for a modulatory role of inflammation-induced Aβ phagocytosis and degradation by newly recruited peripheral immune cells in the pathophysiology of AD.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Aβ clearance; Chronic infection; Ly6Chi monocytes; Toxoplasma gondii.