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Certain Immune Reactions to Viruses Cause Learning Problems

Summary: A new study reports researchers have discovered the mechanism which may cause learning disorders and memory problems as a result of the immune system’s reaction to viral infections like HIV and flu.

Source: NYU Langone Medical Center.

Researchers have discovered a mechanism by which the body’s immune reaction to viruses like influenza and HIV may cause learning and memory problems. This is the finding of a study led by researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center and published online May 15 in Nature Medicine.

Evidence in mice suggests that the entry of a virus anywhere in the bloodstream turns on “first responder” immune cells called CX3CR1highLY6Clow monocytes, which then release the inflammatory signaling protein TNFα. According to the authors of the study, TNFα then travels to the brain where it blocks the formation of nerve cell connections needed to turn sensory information into memories.

Although immune system activation by viruses has long been linked to cognitive problems, the underlying mechanisms have been poorly understood. In the new report, researchers found that virus-associated immune activation causes a loss of connections between nerve cells within brain circuits in the cortex, the brain region responsible for learning. Such mice then do worse on established tests of learning ability.

The observed changes in nerve connections were triggered, not in the brain, but out in the body (the periphery) where viral infection first makes contact with CX3CR1highLY6Clow monocytes in the bloodstream, say the authors.

“This study in animals resonates with what we see in the clinic, where patients with acute or chronic infectious diseases often have weaker performance on motor skills and experience memory decline,” says Guang Yang, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Care, and Pain Medicine at NYU Langone. “Our results suggest that existing anti-inflammatory treatments that target TNFα may protect against brain dysfunction during peripheral infection.”

Fewer Connections

The study results revolve around dendrites, which are offshoots of nerve cells that pick up electrical signals from the previous cell in a nerve pathway and pass it along. Nerve networks form memories by changing the physical wiring of dendrite branches (spines) to increase the strength of connections (synapses). Previous studies have shown that motor skill learning causes an increase in dendritic spine formation in the motor cortex, and that the extent of new spine formation correlates with the animals’ performance improvement as it learns.

In the current study, experiments found that, once exposed to a mimic (mimetic) of viral infection called poly(I:C), mice eliminated more than twice the percentage of dendritic spines as did mice whose immune systems were not activated, suggesting the disruption of synaptic networks.

Furthermore, in mice being trained to run on a rotating rod, which requires muscle coordination (motor) learning, those exposed to poly(I:C) formed significantly fewer dendritic spines.

Image shows a virus.

In the current study, experiments found that, once exposed to a mimic (mimetic) of viral infection called poly(I:C), mice eliminated more than twice the percentage of dendritic spines as did mice whose immune systems were not activated, suggesting the disruption of synaptic networks. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

Researchers also measured the levels of pro-inflammatory signaling proteins (cytokines) in mice at several time points after the injection of poly(I:C), and found a larger, longer-lasting increase in levels of TNFα than in other cytokines. Given their findings, the team guessed that the impact of systemic immune response on brain cell connections was executed through TNFα signaling. Indeed, mice engineered to lack TNFα signals in white blood cells saw neither a drop in dendritic spine formation nor in motor learning ability when exposed to the viral mimetic.

Moving forward, Guang and colleagues will be looking for drugs or treatments that specifically target CX3CR1highLY6Clow monocytes to see it they can prevent “undesirable signals to the brain after viral infection.” They may also study whether or not existing anti-TNF drugs, such as infliximab, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, could be used to prevent virus-driven cognitive disturbance.

About this neuroscience research article

Along with Yang, NYU Langone study authors were Juan Mauricio Garré, Hernandez Moura-Silva, and Juan Lafaille in Departments of Anesthesiology, Pathology and Medicine, and in the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine.

Funding: This work was supported by a Whitehall Foundation Research Grant, and by National Institutes of Health grants R01 GM107469 and R21 AG048410.

Source: Greg Williams – NYU Langone Medical Center
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “CX3CR1+ monocytes modulate learning and learning-dependent dendritic spine remodeling via TNF-α” by Juan Mauricio Garré, Hernandez Moura Silva, Juan J Lafaille & Guang Yang in Nature Medicine. Published online May 15 2017 doi:10.1038/nm.4340

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
NYU Langone Medical Center “Certain Immune Reactions to Viruses Cause Learning Problems.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 15 May 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/virus-immune-system-learning-6674/>.
NYU Langone Medical Center (2017, May 15). Certain Immune Reactions to Viruses Cause Learning Problems. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved May 15, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/virus-immune-system-learning-6674/
NYU Langone Medical Center “Certain Immune Reactions to Viruses Cause Learning Problems.” http://neurosciencenews.com/virus-immune-system-learning-6674/ (accessed May 15, 2017).

Abstract

CX3CR1+ monocytes modulate learning and learning-dependent dendritic spine remodeling via TNF-α

Impaired learning and cognitive function often occurs during systemic infection or inflammation. Although activation of the innate immune system has been linked to the behavioral and cognitive effects that are associated with infection, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Here we mimicked viral immune activation with poly(I:C), a synthetic analog of double-stranded RNA, and longitudinally imaged postsynaptic dendritic spines of layer V pyramidal neurons in the mouse primary motor cortex using two-photon microscopy. We found that peripheral immune activation caused dendritic spine loss, impairments in learning-dependent dendritic spine formation and deficits in multiple learning tasks in mice. These observed synaptic alterations in the cortex were mediated by peripheral-monocyte-derived cells and did not require microglial function in the central nervous system. Furthermore, activation of CX3CR1highLy6Clow monocytes impaired motor learning and learning-related dendritic spine plasticity through tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α-dependent mechanisms. Taken together, our results highlight CX3CR1high monocytes and TNF-α as potential therapeutic targets for preventing infection-induced cognitive dysfunction.

“CX3CR1+ monocytes modulate learning and learning-dependent dendritic spine remodeling via TNF-α” by Juan Mauricio Garré, Hernandez Moura Silva, Juan J Lafaille & Guang Yang in Nature Medicine. Published online May 15 2017 doi:10.1038/nm.4340

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