Glutamate overload triggers synaptic and neuronal loss that potentially contributes to neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease (AD). Glutamate clearance and regulation at synaptic clefts is primarily mediated by glial glutamate transporter 1 (GLT-1). We determined that inflammatory cytokines significantly upregulated GLT-1 through microRNA-181a-mediated post-transcriptional modifications. Unveiling the key underlying mechanisms modulating GLT-1 helps better understand its physiological and pathological interactions with cytokines. Primary murine astrocyte and neuron co-culture received 20 ng/mL IL-1β, TNF-α, or IL-6 for 48 h. Soluble proteins or total RNA were extracted after treatment for further analyses. Treatment with inflammatory cytokines, IL-1β and TNF-α, but not IL-6, significantly increased GLT-1 steady-state levels (p≤0.05) without affecting mRNA levels, suggesting the cytokine-induced GLT-1 was regulated through post-transcriptional modifications. Among the candidate microRNAs predicted to modulate GLT-1, only microRNA-181a was significantly decreased following the IL-1β treatment (p≤0.05). Co-treatment of microRNA-181a mimic in IL-1β-treated primary astrocytes and neurons effectively blocked the IL-1β-induced upregulation of GLT-1. Lastly, we attempted to determine the link between GLT-1 and microRNA-181a in human AD brains. A significant reduction of GLT-1 was found in AD hippocampus tissues, and the ratio of mature microRNA-181a over primary microRNA-181a had an increasing tendency in AD. MicroRNA-181a controls rapid modifications of GLT-1 levels in astrocytes. Cytokine-induced inhibition of microRNA-181a and subsequent upregulation of GLT-1 may have physiological implications in synaptic plasticity while aberrant maturation of microRNA-181a may be involved in pathological consequences in AD.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; GLT-1; cytokines; glutamate excitotoxicity; microRNA.