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Prenatal activation of Toll-like receptors-3 by administration of the viral mimetic poly(I:C) changes synaptic proteins, N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and neurogenesis markers in offspring

Abstract

Background

There is mounting evidence for a neurodevelopmental basis for disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, in which prenatal or early postnatal events may influence brain development and predispose the young to develop these and related disorders. We have now investigated the effect of a prenatal immune challenge on brain development in the offspring. Pregnant rats were treated with the double-stranded RNA polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly(I:C); 10 mg/kg) which mimics immune activation occurring after activation of Toll-like receptors-3 (TLR3) by viral infection. Injections were made in late gestation (embryonic days E14, E16 and E18), after which parturition proceeded naturally and the young were allowed to develop up to the time of weaning at postnatal day 21 (P21). The brains of these animals were then removed to assess the expression of 13 different neurodevelopmental molecules by immunoblotting.

Results

Measurement of cytokine levels in the maternal blood 5 hours after an injection of poly(I:C) showed significantly increased levels of monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), confirming immune activation. In the P21 offspring, significant changes were detected in the expression of GluN1 subunits of NMDA receptors, with no difference in GluN2A or GluN2B subunits or the postsynaptic density protein PSD-95 and no change in the levels of the related small GTPases RhoA or RhoB, or the NMDA receptor modulator EphA4. Among presynaptic molecules, a significant increase in Vesicle Associated Membrane Protein-1 (VAMP-1; synaptobrevin) was seen, with no change in synaptophysin or synaptotagmin. Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen (PCNA), as well as the neurogenesis marker doublecortin were unchanged, although Sox-2 levels were increased, suggesting possible changes in the rate of new cell differentiation.

Conclusions

The results reveal the induction by prenatal poly(I:C) of selective molecular changes in the brains of P21 offspring, affecting primarily molecules associated with neuronal development and synaptic transmission. These changes may contribute to the behavioural abnormalities that have been reported in adult animals after exposure to poly(I:C) and which resemble symptoms seen in schizophrenia and related disorders.