Cerebellar deficit contributes significantly to disability in multiple sclerosis (MS). Several clinical and experimental studies have investigated the pathophysiology of cerebellar dysfunction in this neuroinflammatory disorder, but the cellular and molecular mechanisms are still unclear. In experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a mouse model of MS, proinflammatory cytokines, together with a degeneration of inhibitory neurons, contribute to impair GABAergic transmission at Purkinje cells (PCs). Here, we investigated glutamatergic transmission to gain insight into the pathophysiology of cerebellar dysfunction in EAE. Electrophysiological recordings from PCs showed increased duration of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) during the symptomatic phase of EAE, suggesting an alteration of glutamate uptake played by Bergmann glia. We indeed observed an impaired functioning of the glutamate-aspartate transporter/excitatory amino acid transporter 1 (GLAST/EAAT1) in EAE cerebellum caused by protein downregulation and in correlation with prominent astroglia activation. We have also demonstrated that the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-1β (IL-1β), released by a subset of activated microglia/macrophages and infiltrating lymphocytes, was involved directly in such synaptic alteration. In fact, brief incubation of IL-1β in normal cerebellar slices replicated EAE modifications through a rapid GLAST/EAAT1 downregulation, whereas incubation of an IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) in EAE slices reduced spontaneous EPSC alterations. Finally, EAE mice treated with intracerebroventricular IL-1ra showed normal glutamatergic and GABAergic transmissions, along with GLAST/EAAT1 normalization, milder inflammation, and reduced motor deficits. These results highlight the crucial role played by the proinflammatory IL-1β in triggering molecular and synaptic events involved in neurodegenerative processes that characterize neuroinflammatory diseases such as MS.
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