• Delayed microglial depletion after spinal cord injury reduces chronic inflammation and neurodegeneration in the brain and improves neurological recovery in male mice.

      Li, Yun; Ritzel, Rodney M; Khan, Niaz; Cao, Tuoxin; He, Junyun; Lei, Zhuofan; Matyas, Jessica J; Sabirzhanov, Boris; Liu, Simon; Li, Hui; et al. (Ivyspring International Publisher, 2020-09-14)
      Neuropsychological deficits, including impairments in learning and memory, occur after spinal cord injury (SCI). In experimental SCI models, we and others have reported that such changes reflect sustained microglia activation in the brain that is associated with progressive neurodegeneration. In the present study, we examined the effect of pharmacological depletion of microglia on posttraumatic cognition, depressive-like behavior, and brain pathology after SCI in mice. Methods: Young adult male C57BL/6 mice were subjected to moderate/severe thoracic spinal cord contusion. Microglial depletion was induced with the colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF1R) antagonist PLX5622 administered starting either 3 weeks before injury or one day post-injury and continuing through 6 weeks after SCI. Neuroinflammation in the injured spinal cord and brain was assessed using flow cytometry and NanoString technology. Neurological function was evaluated using a battery of neurobehavioral tests including motor function, cognition, and depression. Lesion volume and neuronal counts were quantified by unbiased stereology. Results: Flow cytometry analysis demonstrated that PLX5622 pre-treatment significantly reduced the number of microglia, as well as infiltrating monocytes and neutrophils, and decreased reactive oxygen species production in these cells from injured spinal cord at 2-days post-injury. Post-injury PLX5622 treatment reduced both CD45int microglia and CD45hi myeloid counts at 7-days. Following six weeks of PLX5622 treatment, there were substantial changes in the spinal cord and brain transcriptomes, including those involved in neuroinflammation. These alterations were associated with improved neuronal survival in the brain and neurological recovery. Conclusion: These findings indicate that pharmacological microglia-deletion reduces neuroinflammation in the injured spinal cord and brain, improving recovery of cognition, depressive-like behavior, and motor function.
    • Functional and transcriptional profiling of microglial activation during the chronic phase of TBI identifies an age-related driver of poor outcome in old mice.

      Ritzel, Rodney M; Li, Yun; Lei, Zhuofan; Carter, Jordan; He, Junyun; Choi, Harry M C; Khan, Niaz; Li, Hui; Allen, Samantha; Lipinski, Marta M; et al. (Springer Nature, 2022-04-22)
      Elderly patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) have greater mortality and poorer outcomes than younger individuals. The extent to which old age alters long-term recovery and chronic microglial activation after TBI is unknown, and evidence for therapeutic efficacy in aged mice is sorely lacking. The present study sought to identify potential inflammatory mechanisms underlying age-related outcomes late after TBI. Controlled cortical impact was used to induce moderate TBI in young and old male C57BL/6 mice. At 12 weeks post-injury, aged mice exhibited higher mortality, poorer functional outcomes, larger lesion volumes, and increased microglial activation. Transcriptomic analysis identified age- and TBI-specific gene changes consistent with a disease-associated microglial signature in the chronically injured brain, including those involved with complement, phagocytosis, and autophagy pathways. Dysregulation of phagocytic and autophagic function in microglia was accompanied by increased neuroinflammation in old mice. As proof-of-principle that these pathways have functional importance, we administered an autophagic enhancer, trehalose, in drinking water continuously for 8 weeks after TBI. Old mice treated with trehalose showed enhanced functional recovery and reduced microglial activation late after TBI compared to the sucrose control group. Our data indicate that microglia undergo chronic changes in autophagic regulation with both normal aging and TBI that are associated with poorer functional outcome. Enhancing autophagy may therefore be a promising clinical therapeutic strategy for TBI, especially in older patients. © 2022, The Author(s).
    • Irradiation-Induced Upregulation of miR-711 Inhibits DNA Repair and Promotes Neurodegeneration Pathways

      Sabirzhanov, Boris; Makarevich, Oleg; Barrett, James P; Jackson, Isabel L; Glaser, Ethan P; Faden, Alan I; Stoica, Bogdan A (MDPI AG, 2020-07-23)
      Radiotherapy for brain tumors induces neuronal DNA damage and may lead to neurodegeneration and cognitive deficits. We investigated the mechanisms of radiation-induced neuronal cell death and the role of miR-711 in the regulation of these pathways. We used in vitro and in vivo models of radiation-induced neuronal cell death. We showed that X-ray exposure in primary cortical neurons induced activation of p53-mediated mechanisms including intrinsic apoptotic pathways with sequential upregulation of BH3-only molecules, mitochondrial release of cytochrome c and AIF-1, as well as senescence pathways including upregulation of p21WAF1/Cip1. These pathways of irradiation-induced neuronal apoptosis may involve miR-711-dependent downregulation of pro-survival genes Akt and Ang-1. Accordingly, we demonstrated that inhibition of miR-711 attenuated degradation of Akt and Ang-1 mRNAs and reduced intrinsic apoptosis after neuronal irradiation; likewise, administration of Ang-1 was neuroprotective. Importantly, irradiation also downregulated two novel miR-711 targets, DNA-repair genes Rad50 and Rad54l2, which may impair DNA damage responses, amplifying the stimulation of apoptotic and senescence pathways and contributing to neurodegeneration. Inhibition of miR-711 rescued Rad50 and Rad54l2 expression after neuronal irradiation, enhancing DNA repair and reducing p53-dependent apoptotic and senescence pathways. Significantly, we showed that brain irradiation in vivo persistently elevated miR-711, downregulated its targets, including pro-survival and DNA-repair molecules, and is associated with markers of neurodegeneration, not only across the cortex and hippocampus but also specifically in neurons isolated from the irradiated brain. Our data suggest that irradiation-induced miR-711 negatively modulates multiple pro-survival and DNA-repair mechanisms that converge to activate neuronal intrinsic apoptosis and senescence. Using miR-711 inhibitors to block the development of these regulated neurodegenerative pathways, thus increasing neuronal survival, may be an effective neuroprotective strategy.
    • Mithramycin selectively attenuates DNA-damage-induced neuronal cell death

      Makarevich, Oleg; Sabirzhanov, Boris; Aubrecht, Taryn G; Glaser, Ethan P; Polster, Brian M; Henry, Rebecca J; Faden, Alan I; Stoica, Bogdan A (Springer Nature, 2020-07-27)
      DNA damage triggers cell death mechanisms contributing to neuronal loss and cognitive decline in neurological disorders, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), and as a side effect of chemotherapy. Mithramycin, which competitively targets chromatin-binding sites of specificity protein 1 (Sp1), was used to examine previously unexplored neuronal cell death regulatory mechanisms via rat primary neurons in vitro and after TBI in mice (males). In primary neurons exposed to DNA-damage-inducing chemotherapy drugs in vitro we showed that DNA breaks sequentially initiate DNA-damage responses, including phosphorylation of ATM, H2AX and tumor protein 53 (p53), transcriptional activation of pro-apoptotic BH3-only proteins, and mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP), activating caspase-dependent and caspase-independent intrinsic apoptosis. Mithramycin was highly neuroprotective in DNA-damage-dependent neuronal cell death, inhibiting chemotherapeutic-induced cell death cascades downstream of ATM and p53 phosphorylation/activation but upstream of p53-induced expression of pro-apoptotic molecules. Mithramycin reduced neuronal upregulation of BH3-only proteins and mitochondrial dysfunction, attenuated caspase-3/7 activation and caspase substrates' cleavage, and limited c-Jun activation. Chromatin immunoprecipitation indicated that mithramycin attenuates Sp1 binding to pro-apoptotic gene promoters without altering p53 binding suggesting it acts by removing cofactors required for p53 transactivation. In contrast, the DNA-damage-independent neuronal death models displayed caspase initiation in the absence of p53/BH3 activation and were not protected even when mithramycin reduced caspase activation. Interestingly, experimental TBI triggers a multiplicity of neuronal death mechanisms. Although markers of DNA-damage/p53-dependent intrinsic apoptosis are detected acutely in the injured cortex and are attenuated by mithramycin, these processes may play a reduced role in early neuronal death after TBI, as caspase-dependent mechanisms are repressed in mature neurons while other, mithramycin-resistant mechanisms are active. Our data suggest that Sp1 is required for p53-mediated transactivation of neuronal pro-apoptotic molecules and that mithramycin may attenuate neuronal cell death in conditions predominantly involving DNA-damage-induced p53-dependent intrinsic apoptosis.
    • Proton extrusion during oxidative burst in microglia exacerbates pathological acidosis following traumatic brain injury

      Ritzel, Rodney M; He, Junyun; Li, Yun; Cao, Tuoxin; Khan, Niaz; Shim, Bosung; Sabirzhanov, Boris; Aubrecht, Taryn; Stoica, Bogdan A; Faden, Alan I; et al. (John Wiley and Sons Inc., 2020-10-22)
      Acidosis is among the least studied secondary injury mechanisms associated with neurotrauma. Acute decreases in brain pH correlate with poor long-term outcome in patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI), however, the temporal dynamics and underlying mechanisms are unclear. As key drivers of neuroinflammation, we hypothesized that microglia directly regulate acidosis after TBI, and thereby, worsen neurological outcomes. Using a controlled cortical impact model in adult male mice we demonstrate that intracellular pH in microglia and extracellular pH surrounding the lesion site are significantly reduced for weeks after injury. Microglia proliferation and production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) were also increased during the first week, mirroring the increase in extracellular ROS levels seen around the lesion site. Microglia depletion by a colony stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF1R) inhibitor, PLX5622, markedly decreased extracellular acidosis, ROS production, and inflammation in the brain after injury. Mechanistically, we identified that the voltage-gated proton channel Hv1 promotes oxidative burst activity and acid extrusion in microglia. Compared to wildtype controls, microglia lacking Hv1 showed reduced ability to generate ROS and extrude protons. Importantly, Hv1-deficient mice exhibited reduced pathological acidosis and inflammation after TBI, leading to long-term neuroprotection and functional recovery. Our data therefore establish the microglial Hv1 proton channel as an important link that integrates inflammation and acidosis within the injury microenvironment during head injury. © 2020 The Authors.
    • Sexual dimorphism in neurological function after SCI is associated with disrupted neuroinflammation in both injured spinal cord and brain.

      Li, Yun; Ritzel, Rodney M; Lei, Zhuofan; Cao, Tuoxin; He, Junyun; Faden, Alan I; Wu, Junfang (Elsevier, 2021-12-23)
      Whereas human spinal cord injury (SCI) is more common in men, the prevalence is growing in women. However, little is known about the effect of biological sex on brain dysfunction and injury mechanisms. To model the highest per capita rate of injury (ages between 16 and 30 years old) in humans, in the present study, young adult or a young/middle-aged male and female C57BL/6 mice were subjected to moderate contusion SCI. When mice were injured at 10-12-week-old, transcriptomic analysis of inflammation-related genes and flow cytometry revealed a more aggressive neuroinflammatory profile in male than females following 3 d SCI, ostensibly driven by sex-specific changes myeloid cell function rather than cell number. Female mice were generally more active at baseline, as evidenced by greater distance traveled in the open field. After SCI, female mice had more favorable locomotor function than male animals. At 13 weeks post-injury, male mice showed poor performance in cognitive and depressive-like behavioral tests, while injured female mice showed fewer deficits in these tasks. However, when injured at 6 months old followed by 8 months post-injury, male mice had considerably less inflammatory activation compared with female animals despite having similar or worse outcomes in affective, cognitive, and motor tasks. Collectively, these findings indicate that sex differences in functional outcome after SCI are associated with the age at onset of injury, as well as disrupted neuroinflammation not only at the site of injury but also in remote brain regions. Thus, biological sex should be considered when designing new therapeutic agents.