Autoimmune-induced damage of the midbrain dopaminergic system in lupus-prone mice
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Spontaneous development of lupus-like disease is accompanied by impaired dopamine catabolism and degenerating axon terminals in the mesencephalon of MRL-lpr mice. We presently examine the hypothesis that systemic autoimmunity affects the central dopaminergic system in behaviorally impaired animals. The functional damage of the nigrostriatal pathway was assessed from rotational behavior after a single injection of the D1/D2-receptor agonist apomorphine. Neurodegeneration in the midbrain was estimated by Fluoro Jade B (FJB) staining. The causal role of autoimmunity was tested by comparing asymptomatic and diseased MRL-lpr mice, and by employing the immunosuppressive drug cyclophosphamide. Damage of dopaminergic neurons was assessed by tyrosine-hydroxylase (TH) staining of the midbrain. Apomorphine induced significant asymmetry in limb use, which lead to increased circling in the diseased MRL-lpr group. While FJB-positive somas were not seen in the striatum, increased staining in the substantia nigra (SN) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) were detected in behaviorally impaired MRL-lpr mice, but not in age-matched controls. Reduced brain mass and increased levels of TNF-alpha in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) suggested cerebral atrophy and inflammation. In addition, CSF was neurotoxic to a dopaminergic progenitor cell line. Immunosuppression attenuated CSF cytotoxicity, TNF-alpha levels, and midbrain neurodegeneration. Supportive of the notion that dying neurons were dopaminergic, the SN of autoimmune mice showed approximately a 35% reduction in the number of TH-positive cells. A three-fold increase in serum brain-reactive antibodies accompanied this loss. Although the source of toxic mediator(s) remains unknown, present results are consistent with the hypothesis that autoimmunity-induced destruction of mesonigral and mesolimbic dopaminergic pathways contributes to the etiology of aberrant behavior in an animal model of neuropsychiatric lupus.
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