Neuropsychiatric systemic lupus erythematosus (NPSLE) is one of the most common and severe manifestations of lupus; however, its pathogenesis is still poorly understood. While there is sparse evidence suggesting that the ongoing autoimmunity may trigger pathogenic changes to the central nervous system (CNS) microvasculature, culminating in inflammatory/ischemic damage, further evidence is still needed. In this study, we used the spontaneous mouse model of SLE (NZBWF1 mice) to investigate the expression of genes and proteins associated with endothelial (dys)function: tissue and urokinase plasminogen activators (tPA and uPA), intercellular and vascular adhesion molecules 1 (ICAM-1 and VCAM-1), brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) and Krüppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) and neuroprotection/immune modulation: pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide (PACAP), vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), PACAP receptor (PAC1), VIP receptors 1 and 2 (VPAC1 and VPAC2). Analyses were carried out both in the hippocampus and striatum of SLE mice of two different age groups (2 and 7 months old), since age correlates with disease severity. In the hippocampus, we identified a gene/protein expression profile indicative of mild endothelial dysfunction, which increased in severity in aged SLE mice. These alterations were paralleled by moderate alterations in the expression of VIP, PACAP and related receptors. In contrast, we report a robust upregulation of endothelial activation markers in the striatum of both young and aged mice, concurrent with significant induction of the VIP/PACAP system. These data identify molecular signatures of endothelial alterations in the hippocampus and striatum of NZBWF1 mice, which are accompanied by a heightened expression of endogenous protective/immune-modulatory neuropeptides. Collectively, our results support the idea that NPSLE may cause alterations of the CNS micro-vascular compartment that cannot be effectively counteracted by the endogenous activity of the neuropeptides PACAP and VIP.
Keywords: NZBWF1 mice; PACAP; VIP; autoimmunity; endothelial dysfunction; hippocampus; neuropeptides; neuropsychiatric systemic lupus erythematosus; striatum.