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J Neurochem. 2001 Feb;76(4):1042-9.

Neurons reduce glial responses to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and prevent injury of microglial cells from over-activation by LPS.

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Neuropharmacology section, Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, North Carolina, USA.


The microenvironment of the CNS has been considered to tonically inhibit glial activities. It has been shown that glia become activated where neuronal death occurs in the aging brain. We have previously demonstrated that neurons tonically inhibit glial activities including their responses to the bacterial endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS). It is not clear whether activation of glia, especially microglia in the aging brain, is the consequence of disinhibition due to neuronal death. This study was designed to determine if glia regain their responsiveness to LPS once the neurons have died in aged cultures. When cultured alone, glia from postnatal day one rat mesencephalons stimulated with LPS (0.1-1000 ng/mL) produced both nitric oxide (NO) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha), yielding a sigmoid and a bell-shaped curve, respectively. When neuron-containing cultures were prepared from embryonic day 14/15 mesencephalons, the shape of the dose-response curve for NO was monotonic and the bell-shaped curve for TNFalpha production was shifted to the right. After 1 month of culture under conditions where neurons die, the production curves for NO and TNFalpha in LPS-stimulated glia shifted back to the left compared to mixed neuron-glia cultures. Immunostaining of rat microglia for the marker CR3 (the receptor for complement component C3) demonstrated that high concentrations of LPS (1 microg/mL) reduced the number of microglia in mixed-glial cultures. In contrast, reduction of CR3 immunostaining was not observed in LPS-stimulated mixed neuron-glia cultures. Taken together, the results demonstrate that disinhibition of the glial response to LPS occurs after neurons die in aged cultures. Once neurons have died, the responsiveness of glia to LPS is restored. Neurons prevented injury to microglia by reducing their responsiveness to LPS. This study broadens our understanding of the ways in which the CNS microenvironment affects cerebral inflammation.

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