Sexual dimorphism in inflammasome-containing extracellular vesicles and the regulation of innate immunity in the brain of reproductive senescent females

Neurochem Int. 2019 Jul;127:29-37. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2018.11.018. Epub 2018 Nov 27.


A woman's risk for stroke increases exponentially following the onset of menopause; however, the underlying mechanisms responsible for the increased risk remain unknown. The depletion of endogenous estrogen at menopause is known to activate the inflammatory response. Therefore, in this study we have used reproductively senescent (RS) rats to test the hypotheses that (1) inflammasome activation is significantly higher in the brain of RS females (RSF) as compared to their younger counterparts and age-matched senescent male rats, and that (2) RS triggers an innate immune response mediated in part by inflammasome-containing extracellular vesicles (EV) that originate in the female reproductive organs and then spreads to the brain. We tested these hypotheses using male and female Sprague-Dawley rats (Young: 6-7 months and RS: 9-13 months). Hippocampus, gonads and serum were collected. Additionally, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of pre- and post-menopausal women (ages 23 to 37 and 52 to 68) was purchased and extracellular vesicles (EV) were isolated from serum and CSF. The Inflammasome proteins caspase-1, apoptosis-associated speck-like protein containing a caspase recruitment domain (ASC) and IL-1β were then resolved by immunoblotting. We found that inflammasome protein expression increased significantly in the analyzed tissues in RSF as compared to young females (YF), such difference was not present in age-matched male rat brains. Interestingly, we found that Nik-related kinase (NRK), which is present in female reproductive organs was present in the CSF and serum-derived EV, suggesting that the source of the EV seen in the brain during RS/menopause originate, in part, in the female reproductive organs. Thus, this study shows for the first time an involvement of the inflammasome originating in the female reproductive system as a contributor to inflammation in the brain that makes the peri-menopausal women's brain more susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases such as stroke.

Keywords: Caspase-1; Extracellular vesicles; Inflammasome; Menopause; Reproductive senescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / immunology
  • Female
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Inflammasomes / immunology*
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Inflammasomes