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Expression of the neuroprotective protein aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator 2 correlates with neuronal stress and disability in models of multiple sclerosis

Rahim, T;Becquart, P;Baeva, ME;Quandt, J;

Axonal degeneration and neuronal loss have been described as the major causes of irreversible clinical disability in multiple sclerosis (MS). The aryl-hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator 2 (ARNT2) protein has been associated with neuroprotection in models of ischemia and neuronal responses to stressors. To characterize its potential to influence inflammatory neurodegeneration, we examined ARNT2 expression in the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) model of MS and characterized mediators that influence ARNT2 expression as well as plausible partners and targets. Arnt2 message and protein levels dropped significantly in EAE spinal cords as disease developed and were lowest at peak disability. ARNT2 expression is prominent in neuronal cell bodies within the gray matter with some staining in glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)+ astrocytes in healthy animals. At peak disease, ARNT2 expression is reduced by 20-50% in gray matter neurons compared to healthy controls. ARNT2 intensity in neurons throughout the EAE spinal cord correlated inversely with the degree of immune cell infiltration (r=-0.5085, p<0.01) and axonal damage identified with SMI32 staining (r=-0.376, p=0.032). To understand the relationship between ARNT2 expression and neuronal health, we exposed enriched cortical cultures of neurons to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to mimic oxidative stress. H2O2 at lower doses rapidly increased ARNT2 protein levels which returned to baseline within 3-4 h. Exposure to higher doses of H2O2) dropped ARNT2 levels below baseline, preceding cytotoxicity measured by morphological changes and lactate dehydrogenase release from cells. Decreases in ARNT2 secondary to staurosporine and H2O2 preceded increases in cleaved caspase 3 and associated apoptosis. We also examined expression of neuronal pas 4 (Npas4), whose heterodimerization with ARNT2 drives expression of the neurotrophic factor brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf). Like ARNT2, Npas4 levels also decline at the onset of EAE and are linked to decreases in Bdnf. In vitro, H2O2 exposure drives Npas4 expression that is tied to increases in Bdnf. Our data support ARNT2 as a neuronal transcription factor whose sustained expression is linked to neuronal and axonal health, protection that may primarily be driven through its partnering with Npas4 to influence BDNF expression.