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Glucocorticoids prime the inflammatory response of human hippocampal cells through up-regulation of inflammatory pathways

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Mark A. Horowitz, Annamaria Cattaneo, Nadia Cattane, Nicola Lopizzo, Luis Tojo, Natalia Bakunina, Ksenia Musaelyan, Alessandra Borsini, Particia A. Zunszain, Carmine M. Pariante

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Early online date16 Mar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Mar 2020

King's Authors


Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines and an overactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis have both been implicated in the pathogenesis of depression. However, these explanations appear contradictory because glucocorticoids are well recognised for their anti-inflammatory effects. Two hypotheses exist to resolve this paradox: the mediating presence of glucocorticoid receptor resistance, or the possibility that glucocorticoids can potentiate inflammatory processes in some circumstances. We sought to investigate these hypotheses in a cell model with significant relevance to depression: human hippocampal progenitor cells. We demonstrated that dexamethasone in vitro given for 24 hours and followed by a 24 hours rest interval before an immune challenge potentiates inflammatory effects in these neural cells, that is, increases the IL-6 protein secretion induced by stimulation with IL-1β (10 ng/mL for 24 hours) by + 49% (P < 0.05) at a concentration of 100 nM and by + 70% (P < 0.01) for 1 μM. These effects are time- and dose-dependent and require activation of the glucocorticoid receptor. Gene expression microarray assays using Human Gene 2.1st Array Strips demonstrated that glucocorticoid treatment up-regulated several innate immune genes, including chemokines and Nod-like receptor, NLRP6; using transcription factor binding motifs we found limited evidence that glucocorticoid resistance was induced in the cells. Our data suggests a mechanism by which stress may prime the immune system for increased inflammation and suggests that stress and inflammation may be synergistic in the pathogenesis of depression.

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