Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by impaired social interactions and communication. The pathogenesis of ASD is not known, but it involves activation of microglia. We had shown that the peptide neurotensin (NT) is increased in the serum of children with ASD and stimulates cultured adult human microglia to secrete the proinflammatory molecules IL-1β and CXCL8. This process is inhibited by the cytokine IL-37. Another cytokine, IL-38, has been reported to have antiinflammatory actions. In this report, we show that pretreatment of cultured adult human microglia with recombinant IL-38 (aa3-152, 1-100 ng/mL) inhibits (P < 0.0001) NT-stimulated (10 nM) secretion of IL-1β (at 1 ng/mL) and CXCL8 (at 100 ng/mL). In fact, IL-38 (aa3-152, 1 ng/mL) is more potent than IL-37 (100 ng/mL). Here, we report that pretreatment with IL-38 (100 ng/mL) of embryonic microglia (HMC3), in which secretion of IL-1β was undetectable, inhibits secretion of CXCL8 (P = 0.004). Gene expression of IL-38 and its receptor IL-36R are decreased (P = 0.001 and P = 0.04, respectively) in amygdala from patients with ASD (n = 8) compared to non-ASD controls (n = 8), obtained from the University of Maryland NeuroBioBank. IL-38 is increased (P = 0.03) in the serum of children with ASD. These findings indicate an important role for IL-38 in the inhibition of activation of human microglia, thus supporting its development as a treatment approach for ASD.
Keywords: IL-38; amygdala; autism; inflammation; microglia.