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Inhibition of the NLRP3-inflammasome prevents cognitive deficits in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis mice via the alteration of astrocyte phenotype

Hou, B;Zhang, Y;Liang, P;He, Y;Peng, B;Liu, W;Han, S;Yin, J;He, X;

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that is characterized by demyelination and axonal damage in the central nervous system. Cognitive deficits are recognized as one of the features of MS, and these deficits affect the patients’ quality of life. Increasing evidence from experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), the animal model of MS, has suggested that EAE mice exhibit hippocampal impairment and cognitive deficits. However, the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. The NLRP3 inflammasome is a key contributor to neuroinflammation and is involved in the development of MS and EAE. Activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome in microglia is fundamental for subsequent inflammatory events. Activated microglia can convert astrocytes to the neurotoxic A1 phenotype in a variety of neurological diseases. However, it remains unknown whether the NLRP3 inflammasome contributes to cognitive deficits and astrocyte phenotype alteration in EAE. In this study, we demonstrated that severe memory deficits occurred in the late phase of EAE, and cognitive deficits were ameliorated by treatment with MCC950, an inhibitor of the NLRP3 inflammasome. In addition, MCC950 alleviated hippocampal pathology and synapse loss. Astrocytes from EAE mice were converted to the neurotoxic A1 phenotype, and this conversion was prevented by MCC950 treatment. IL-18, which is the downstream of NLRP3 inflammasome, was sufficient to induce the conversion of astrocytes to the A1 phenotype through the NF-B pathway. IL-18 induced A1 type reactive astrocytes impaired hippocampal neurons through the release of complement component 3 (C3). Altogether, our present data suggest that the NLRP3 inflammasome plays an important role in cognitive deficits in EAE, possibly via the alteration of astrocyte phenotypes. Our study provides a novel therapeutic strategy for hippocampal impairment in EAE and MS.