Previously, we have shown that the transcription factor nuclear factor interleukin (NF-IL)6 can be used as an activation marker for inflammatory lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced and psychological novel environment stress (NES) in the rat brain. Here, we aimed to investigate age dependent changes of hypothalamic and pituitary responses to NES (cage switch) or LPS (100 μg/kg) in 2 and 24 months old rats. Animals were sacrificed at specific time points, blood and brains withdrawn and analyzed using immunohistochemistry, RT-PCR and bioassays. In the old rats, telemetric recording revealed that NES-induced hyperthermia was enhanced and prolonged compared to the young group. Plasma IL-6 levels remained unchanged and hypothalamic IL-6 mRNA expression was increased in the old rats. Interestingly, this response was accompanied by a significant upregulation of corticotropin-releasing hormone mRNA expression only in young rats after NES and overall higher plasma corticosterone levels in all aged animals. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed a significant upregulation of NF-IL6-positive cells in the pituitary after NES or LPS-injection. In another important brain structure implicated in immune-to-brain communication, namely, in the median eminence (ME), NF-IL6-immunoreactivity was increased in aged animals, while the young group showed just minor activation after LPS-stimulation. Interestingly, we found a higher amount of NF-IL6-CD68-positive cells in the posterior pituitary of old rats compared to the young counterparts. Moreover, aging affected the regulation of cytokine interaction in the anterior pituitary lobe. LPS-treatment significantly enhanced the secretion of the cytokines IL-6 and TNFα into supernatants of primary cell cultures of the anterior pituitary. Furthermore, in the young rats, incubation with IL-6 and IL-10 antibodies before LPS-stimulation led to a robust decrease of IL-6 production and an increase of TNFα production by the pituitary cells. In the old rats, this specific cytokine interaction could not be detected. Overall, the present results revealed strong differences in the activation patterns and pathways between old and young rats after both stressors. The prolonged hyperthermic and inflammatory response seen in aged animals seems to be linked to dysregulated pituitary cytokine interactions and brain cell activation (NF-IL6) in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Keywords: NF-IL6; aging; cage switch; fever; hyperthermia; immune-to-brain communication; lipopolysaccharide; novel environment stress.