Constitutive knockout of interleukin-6 ameliorates memory deficits and entorhinal astrocytosis in the MRL/lpr mouse model of neuropsychiatric lupus

Joshua Reynolds, Michelle Huang, Yaxi Li, Myriam Meineck, Tamara Moeckel, Julia Weinmann-Menke, Chandra Mohan, Andreas Schwarting, Chaim Putterman

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Background: Neuropsychiatric lupus (NPSLE) describes the cognitive, memory, and affective emotional burdens faced by many lupus patients. While NPSLE’s pathogenesis has not been fully elucidated, clinical imaging studies and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) findings, namely elevated interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels, point to ongoing neuroinflammation in affected patients. Not only linked to systemic autoimmunity, IL-6 can also activate neurotoxic glial cells the brain. A prior pre-clinical study demonstrated that IL-6 can acutely induce a loss of sucrose preference; the present study sought to assess the necessity of chronic IL-6 exposure in the NPSLE-like disease of MRL/lpr lupus mice. Methods: We quantified 1308 proteins in individual serum or pooled CSF samples from MRL/lpr and control MRL/mpj mice using protein microarrays. Serum IL-6 levels were plotted against characteristic NPSLE neurobehavioral deficits. Next, IL-6 knockout MRL/lpr (IL-6 KO; n = 15) and IL-6 wildtype MRL/lpr mice (IL-6 WT; n = 15) underwent behavioral testing, focusing on murine correlates of learning and memory deficits, depression, and anxiety. Using qPCR, we quantified the expression of inflammatory genes in the cortex and hippocampus of MRL/lpr IL-6 KO and WT mice. Immunofluorescent staining was performed to quantify numbers of microglia (Iba1 +) and astrocytes (GFAP +) in multiple cortical regions, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. Results: MRL/lpr CSF analyses revealed increases in IL-17, MCP-1, TNF-α, and IL-6 (a priori p-value < 0.1). Serum levels of IL-6 correlated with learning and memory performance (R2 = 0.58; p = 0.03), but not motivated behavior, in MRL/lpr mice. Compared to MRL/lpr IL-6 WT, IL-6 KO mice exhibited improved novelty preference on object placement (45.4% vs 60.2%, p < 0.0001) and object recognition (48.9% vs 67.9%, p = 0.002) but equivalent performance in tests for anxiety-like disease and depression-like behavior. IL-6 KO mice displayed decreased cortical expression of aif1 (microglia; p = 0.049) and gfap (astrocytes; p = 0.044). Correspondingly, IL-6 KO mice exhibited decreased density of GFAP + cells compared to IL-6 WT in the entorhinal cortex (89 vs 148 cells/mm2, p = 0.037), an area vital to memory. Conclusions: The inflammatory composition of MRL/lpr CSF resembles that of human NPSLE patients. Increased in the CNS, IL-6 is necessary to the development of learning and memory deficits in the MRL/lpr model of NPSLE. Furthermore, the stimulation of entorhinal astrocytosis appears to be a key mechanism by which IL-6 promotes these behavioral deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number89
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 10 Apr 2024

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  • Astrocytosis
  • Entorhinal cortex
  • Interleukin-6
  • Memory deficits


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