Calcineurin A beta deficiency ameliorates HFD-induced hypothalamic astrocytosis in mice

J Neuroinflammation. 2018 Feb 8;15(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s12974-018-1076-x.


ᅟ: Astrocytosis is a reactive process involving cellular, molecular, and functional changes to facilitate neuronal survival, myelin preservation, blood brain barrier function and protective glial scar formation upon brain insult. The overall pro- or anti-inflammatory impact of reactive astrocytes appears to be driven in a context- and disease-driven manner by modulation of astrocytic Ca2+ homeostasis and activation of Ca2+/calmodulin-activated serine/threonine phosphatase calcineurin. Here, we aimed to assess whether calcineurin is dispensable for astrocytosis in the hypothalamus driven by prolonged high fat diet (HFD) feeding. Global deletion of calcineurin A beta (gene name: Ppp3cb) led to a decrease of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-positive cells in the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH), and arcuate nucleus (ARC) of mice exposed chronically to HFD. The concomitant decrease in Iba1-positive microglia in the VMH further suggests a modest impact of Ppp3cb deletion on microgliosis. Pharmacological inhibition of calcineurin activity by Fk506 had no impact on IBA1-positive microglia in hypothalami of mice acutely exposed to HFD for 1 week. However, Fk506-treated mice displayed a decrease in GFAP levels in the ARC. In vivo effects could not be replicated in cell culture, where calcineurin inhibition by Fk506 had no effect on astrocytic morphology, astrocytic cell death, GFAP, and vimentin protein levels or microglia numbers in primary hypothalamic astrocytes and microglia co-cultures. Further, adenoviral overexpression of calcineurin subunit Ppp3r1 in primary glia culture did not lead to an increase in GFAP fluorescence intensity. Overall, our results point to a prominent role of calcineurin in mediating hypothalamic astrocytosis as response to acute and chronic HFD exposure. Moreover, discrepant findings in vivo and in cell culture indicate the necessity of studying astrocytes in their "natural" environment, i.e., preserving an intact hypothalamic microenvironment with neurons and non-neuronal cells in close proximity.

Keywords: Astrocytosis; Calcineurin; Hypothalamus; Inflammation; Microgliosis; Obesity; Ppp3cb.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Calcineurin / deficiency*
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Gliosis / metabolism*
  • Gliosis / pathology
  • Gliosis / prevention & control*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamus / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout


  • Calcineurin
  • protein phosphatase 3, catalytic subunit, beta isoform, mouse