The mTOR kinase inhibitor rapamycin enhances the expression and release of pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 6 modulating the activation of human microglial cells
Keywords:HMC3 microglial cells, rapamycin, IL-6, ROS, pro-inflammatory cytokines
Emerging evidence suggests the potential use of rapamycin in treatment of several neurological disorders. The drug readily crosses the blood brain barrier and may exert direct immunomodulatory effects within the brain. Microglia are the main innate immune cells of the brain, thus critically involved in the initiation and development of inflammatory processes at this level. However, there are conflicting data from rodent studies about the pharmacological effects of rapamycin on microglial inflammatory responses. Considering that rodent microglia display relevant biochemical and pharmacological differences compared to human microglia, in the present study we studied the effects of rapamycin in an experimental model of human microglia, the human microglial clone 3 (HMC3) cell line. Rapamycin was tested in the nM range both under basal conditions and in cells activated with a pro-inflammatory cytokine cocktail, consisting in a mixture of interferon-γ and interleukin-1β (II). The drug significantly increased II stimulatory effect on interleukin-6 (IL-6) expression and release in the HMC3 cells, while reducing the production of free oxygen radicals (ROS) both under basal conditions and in cells activated with II. Consistently with its known molecular mechanism of action, rapamycin reduced the extent of activation of the so-called ‘mechanistic’ target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) kinase and the total amount of intracellular proteins. In contrast to rodent cells, rapamycin did not alter human microglial cell viability nor inhibited cell proliferation. Moreover, rapamycin did not exert any significant effect on the morphology of the HMC3 cells. All together these data suggest that the inhibition of mTORC1 in human microglia by rapamycin results in complex immunomodulatory effects, including a significant increase in the expression and release of the pro-inflammatory IL-6.
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