The innate immune system stimulating cytokine GM-CSF improves learning/memory and interneuron and astrocyte brain pathology in Dp16 Down syndrome mice and improves learning/memory in wild-type mice

Neurobiol Dis. 2022 Jun 15:168:105694. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2022.105694. Epub 2022 Mar 18.


Down syndrome (DS) is characterized by chronic neuroinflammation, peripheral inflammation, astrogliosis, imbalanced excitatory/inhibitory neuronal function, and cognitive deficits in both humans and mouse models. Suppression of inflammation has been proposed as a therapeutic approach to treating DS co-morbidities, including intellectual disability (DS/ID). Conversely, we discovered previously that treatment with the innate immune system stimulating cytokine granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), which has both pro- and anti-inflammatory activities, improved cognition and reduced brain pathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease (AD), another inflammatory disorder, and improved cognition and reduced biomarkers of brain pathology in a phase II trial of humans with mild-to-moderate AD. To investigate the effects of GM-CSF treatment on DS/ID in the absence of AD, we assessed behavior and brain pathology in 12-14 month-old DS mice (Dp[16]1Yey) and their wild-type (WT) littermates, neither of which develop amyloid, and found that subcutaneous GM-CSF treatment (5 μg/day, five days/week, for five weeks) improved performance in the radial arm water maze in both Dp16 and WT mice compared to placebo. Dp16 mice also showed abnormal astrocyte morphology, increased percent area of GFAP staining in the hippocampus, clustering of astrocytes in the hippocampus, and reduced numbers of calretinin-positive interneurons in the entorhinal cortex and subiculum, and all of these brain pathologies were improved by GM-CSF treatment. These findings suggest that stimulating and/or modulating inflammation and the innate immune system with GM-CSF treatment may enhance cognition in both people with DS/ID and in the typical aging population.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease (AD); Astrocyte; Calretinin; Cognition; Down syndrome (DS); Dp(16)1Yey (Dp16); Glial-fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP); Granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF); Intellectual disability (ID); Interneuron.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease* / drug therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease* / pathology
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Cognition
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Down Syndrome* / drug therapy
  • Down Syndrome* / pathology
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / metabolism
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / pharmacology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immune System / metabolism
  • Immune System / pathology
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Interneurons / metabolism
  • Mice


  • Cytokines
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor