Interferon regulatory factor 8 (IRF8) is a transcription factor necessary for the maturation of microglia, as well as other peripheral immune cells. It also regulates the transition of microglia and other immune cells to a pro-inflammatory phenotype. Irf8 is also a known risk gene for multiple sclerosis and lupus, and it has recently been shown to be downregulated in schizophrenia. While most studies have focused on IRF8-dependent regulation of immune cell function, little is known about how it impacts neural circuits. Here, we show by RNAseq from Irf8 -/- male and female mouse brains that several genes involved in regulation of neural activity are dysregulated. We then show that these molecular changes are reflected in heightened neural excitability and a profound increase in susceptibility to lethal seizures in male and female Irf8 -/- mice. Finally, we identify that TNF-α is elevated specifically in microglia in the CNS, and genetic or acute pharmacological blockade of TNF-α in the Irf8 -/- CNS rescued the seizure phenotype. These results provide important insights into the consequences of IRF8 signaling and TNF-α on neural circuits. Our data further suggest that neuronal function is impacted by loss of IRF8, a factor involved in neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Here, we identify a previously unknown and key role for interferon regulator factor 8 (IRF8) in regulating neural excitability and seizures. We further determine that these effects on neural circuits are through elevated TNF-α in the CNS. As IRF8 has most widely been studied in the context of regulating the development and inflammatory signaling in microglia and other immune cells, we have uncovered a novel function. Further, IRF8 is a risk gene for multiple sclerosis and lupus, IRF8 is dysregulated in schizophrenia, and elevated TNF-α has been identified in a multitude of neurologic conditions. Thus, elucidating these IRF8 and TNF-α-dependent effects on brain circuit function has profound implications for understanding underlying, therapeutically relevant mechanisms of disease.
Keywords: IRF8; TNF alpha; microglia; neural-immune; seizures; synapses.
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