Blocking microglial activation of reactive astrocytes is neuroprotective in models of Alzheimer's disease

Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2021 Apr 26;9(1):78. doi: 10.1186/s40478-021-01180-z.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of age-related dementia. Increasing evidence suggests that neuroinflammation mediated by microglia and astrocytes contributes to disease progression and severity in AD and other neurodegenerative disorders. During AD progression, resident microglia undergo proinflammatory activation, resulting in an increased capacity to convert resting astrocytes to reactive astrocytes. Therefore, microglia are a major therapeutic target for AD and blocking microglia-astrocyte activation could limit neurodegeneration in AD. Here we report that NLY01, an engineered exedin-4, glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP-1R) agonist, selectively blocks β-amyloid (Aβ)-induced activation of microglia through GLP-1R activation and inhibits the formation of reactive astrocytes as well as preserves neurons in AD models. In two transgenic AD mouse models (5xFAD and 3xTg-AD), repeated subcutaneous administration of NLY01 blocked microglia-mediated reactive astrocyte conversion and preserved neuronal viability, resulting in improved spatial learning and memory. Our study indicates that the GLP-1 pathway plays a critical role in microglia-reactive astrocyte associated neuroinflammation in AD and the effects of NLY01 are primarily mediated through a direct action on Aβ-induced GLP-1R+ microglia, contributing to the inhibition of astrocyte reactivity. These results show that targeting upregulated GLP-1R in microglia is a viable therapy for AD and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; GLP-1 receptor; GLP-1R agonist; Microglia activation; NLY01; Reactive astrocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / drug effects
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Exenatide / administration & dosage
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor / agonists
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Neuroprotection / drug effects
  • Neuroprotection / physiology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / administration & dosage
  • Peptide Fragments / toxicity


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Glp1r protein, mouse
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Peptide Fragments
  • amyloid beta-protein (1-42)
  • Exenatide