Systemic Inflammation Causes Microglial Dysfunction with a Mixed AD-Like Pathology
Background Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the primary cause of cognitive deficit in elderly humans. Late-onset AD (LOAD) is sporadic, multifactorial, non-Mendelian accounting at present for 95% of the cases in contrast to the genetic form. Risk factors for sporadic AD include Gene: Environment interactions. There is increasing evidence that lifestyle and environmental stress such as infection and chronic inflammation are underlying culprits of neurodegenerative dementia. To date, very few mouse
... , very few mouse models reproduce the pathophysiological progression of sporadic AD, while the majority of studies have employed transgenic animals reproducing the familial form. Methods We have re-engineered the Polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (PolyI:C) sterile infection model in wildtype C57Bl6 mice to obtain chronic low-grade systemic inflammation. We have conducted a cross-sectional analysis of aging PolyI:C and Saline control mice (3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 16 months), taking the hippocampus as a reference brain region, based on its vulnerability, and compared the brain aging phenotype to AD progression in humans with mild AD, severe AD and Controls (CTL). Results We found that PolyI:C mice display both peripheral and central inflammation with a peak at 6 months, associated with memory deficits. The hippocampus is characterized by a pronounced and progressive tauopathy. In PolyI:C brains, microglia undergo aging-dependent morphological rearrangements progressively adopting a phagocytic phenotype. Transcriptomic analysis reveals a profound change in gene expression over the course of aging, with a peak in differential expression at 9 months. We confirm that the proinflammatory marker Lcn2 is one of the genes with the strongest upregulation in PolyI:C mice upon aging. Validation in brains from patients with increasing severity of AD shows a general tendency of the genes to decline except for GFAP. Conclusions The PolyI:C model of sterile infection demonstrates that peripheral chronic inflammation is sufficient to cause neuropathological processes resembling a mixed-AD, with progressive tau hyperphosphorylation, changes in microglia morphology, and gene reprogramming reflecting the increased neuroinflammation and the loss of neuronal functionality seen to some extent in humans.