BACKGROUND: The p38α MAPK isoform is a well-established therapeutic target in peripheral inflammatory diseases, but the importance of this kinase in pathological microglial activation and detrimental inflammation in CNS disorders is less well understood. To test the role of the p38α MAPK isoform in microglia-dependent neuron damage, we used primary microglia from wild-type (WT) or p38α MAPK conditional knockout (KO) mice in co-culture with WT cortical neurons, and measured neuron damage after LPS insult.

RESULTS: We found that neurons in co-culture with p38α-deficient microglia were protected against LPS-induced synaptic loss, neurite degeneration, and neuronal death. The involvement of the proinflammatory cytokine TNFα was demonstrated by the findings that p38α KO microglia produced much less TNFα in response to LPS compared to WT microglia, that adding back TNFα to KO microglia/neuron co-cultures increased the LPS-induced neuron damage, and that neutralization of TNFα in WT microglia/neuron co-cultures prevented the neuron damage. These results using cell-selective, isoform-specific KO mice demonstrate that the p38α MAPK isoform in microglia is a key mediator of LPS-induced neuronal and synaptic dysfunction. The findings also provide evidence that a major mechanism by which LPS activation of microglia p38α MAPK signaling leads to neuron damage is through up-regulation of the proinflammatory cytokine TNFα.

CONCLUSIONS: The data suggest that selective targeting of p38α MAPK signaling should be explored as a potential therapeutic strategy for CNS disorders where overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines is implicated in disease progression.

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Published in Molecular Neurodegeneration, v. 6, 84.

© 2011 Xing et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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