Journal Of Molecular Neuroscience
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) serves to maintain homeostasis of vital organ systems throughout the body, and its dysfunction plays a major role in human disease. The SNS also links the central nervous system to the immune system during different types of stress via innervation of the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, and bone marrow. Previous studies have shown that pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP, gene name adcyap1) exhibits anti-inflammatory properties in the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) model of multiple sclerosis. Because PACAP is known to regulate SNS function, we hypothesized that part of the immunoprotective action of PACAP is due to its neuromodulatory effects on sympathetic neurons. To examine this, we used an inducible, targeted approach to conditionally disrupt not only the PACAP-preferring PAC1 receptor gene (adcyap1r1) in dopamine -hydroxylase-expressing cells, which includes postganglionic sympathetic neurons, but also catecholaminergic neurons in the brain and adrenomedullary chromaffin cells. In contrast to our previous EAE studies using PACAP global knockout mice which developed severe and prolonged EAE, we found that mice with conditional loss of PAC1 receptors in catecholaminergic cells developed a delayed time course of EAE with reduced helper T cell type 1 (Th1) and Th17 and enhanced Th2 cell polarization. At later time points, similar to mice with global PACAP loss, mice with conditional loss of PAC1 exhibited more severe clinical disease than controls. The latter was associated with a reduction in the abundance of thymic regulatory T cells (Tregs). These studies indicate that PAC1 receptor signaling acts in catecholaminergic cells in a time-dependent manner. At early stages of disease development, it enhances the ability of the SNS to polarize the Th response towards a more inflammatory state. Then, after disease is established, it enhances the ability of the SNS to dampen the inflammatory response via Tregs. The lack of concordance in results between global PACAP KO mice and mice with the PAC1 deletion targeted to catecholaminergic cells during early EAE may be explained by the fact that PACAP acts to regulate inflammation via multiple receptor subtypes and multiple targets, including inflammatory cells.