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Anti-Axl antibody treatment reduces the severity of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis

DuBois, JC;Ray, AK;Davies, P;Shafit-Zagardo, B;

Multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated disease of the central nervous system (CNS) characterized by inflammation, oligodendrocytes loss, demyelination, and damaged axons. Tyro3, Axl, and MerTK belong to a family of receptor tyrosine kinases that regulate innate immune responses and CNS homeostasis. During experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), the mRNA expression of MerTK, Gas6, and Axl significantly increase, whereas Tyro3 and ProS1 remain unchanged. We have shown that Gas6 is neuroprotective during EAE, and since Gas6 activation of Axl may be necessary for conferring neuroprotection, we sought to determine whether ?-Axl or ?-MerTK antibodies, shown by others to activate their respective receptors in vivo, could effectively reduce inflammation and neurodegeneration. Mice received either ?-Axl, ?-MerTK, IgG isotype control, or PBS before the onset of EAE symptoms. EAE clinical course, axonal damage, demyelination, cytokine production, and immune cell activation in the CNS were used to determine the severity of EAE. ?-Axl antibody treatment significantly decreased the EAE clinical indices of female mice during chronic EAE and of male mice during both acute and chronic phases. The number of days mice were severely paralyzed also significantly decreased with ?-Axl treatment. Inflammatory macrophages/microglia and the extent of demyelination significantly decreased in the spinal cords of ?-Axl-treated mice during chronic EAE, with no differences in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. ?-MerTK antibody did not influence EAE induction or progression. Our data suggests that the beneficial effect of Gas6/Axl signaling observed in mice administered with Gas6 can be partially preserved by administering an activating ?-Axl antibody, but not ?-MerTK.