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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jan 17;103(3):678-83. Epub 2006 Jan 4.

Immunity and behavior: antibodies alter emotion.

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  • 1Burke Medical Research Institute, White Plains, NY 10605, USA.


Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease in which most patients express Abs that bind double-stranded DNA. Recent work has shown that a subset of lupus Abs can crossreact with the NR2A and NR2B subunits of the NMDA receptor. This receptor is expressed in neurons throughout the brain but is at highest density within cells of the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. The neurons in the CNS are normally protected from brain-reactive Abs by the blood-brain barrier (BBB); however, a breach in the barrier's integrity exposes neurons to potentially pathogenic Abs. Previously, we have shown that mice that are immunized with a peptide mimetope of DNA produce lupus-like Abs that crossreact with DNA and the NMDA receptor. Moreover, after abrogation of the BBB by treatment with lipopolysaccharide, the immunized mice display hippocampal neuron damage with ensuing memory impairment. Given that rises in epinephrine can increase cerebral blood flow and can cause leaks in the BBB, we decided to investigate whether epinephrine could act as a permissive agent for Ab-mediated neurotoxicity. Here, we show that peptide-immunized mice, given epinephrine to open the BBB, lose neurons in the lateral amygdala and develop a behavioral disorder characterized by a deficient response to fear-conditioning paradigms. Thus, the agent used to open the BBB determines which brain region is made vulnerable to neurotoxic Abs, and Abs that penetrate brain tissue can cause changes not only in cognitive competence, but also in emotional behavior.

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