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BACKGROUNDReactive astrocytes are capable of producing a variety of pro-inflammatory mediators and potentially neurotoxic compounds, including nitric oxide (NO). High amounts of NO are synthesized following up-regulation of inducible NO synthase (iNOS). The expression of iNOS is tightly regulated by complex molecular mechanisms, involving both transcriptional and post-transcriptional processes. The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) kinase modulates the activity of some proteins directly involved in post-transcriptional processes of mRNA degradation. mTOR is a serine-threonine kinase that plays an evolutionarily conserved role in the regulation of cell growth, proliferation, survival, and metabolism. It is also a key regulator of intracellular processes in glial cells. However, with respect to iNOS expression, both stimulatory and inhibitory actions involving the mTOR pathway have been described. In this study the effects of mTOR inhibition on iNOS regulation were evaluated in astrocytes.
METHODSPrimary cultures of rat cortical astrocytes were activated with different proinflammatory stimuli, namely a mixture of cytokines (TNFα, IFNγ, and IL-1β) or by LPS plus IFNγ. Rapamycin was used at nM concentrations to block mTOR activity and under these conditions we measured its effects on the iNOS promoter, mRNA and protein levels. Functional experiments to evaluate iNOS activity were also included.
RESULTSIn this experimental paradigm mTOR activation did not significantly affect astrocyte iNOS activity, but mTOR pathway was involved in the regulation of iNOS expression. Rapamycin did not display any significant effects under basal conditions, on either iNOS activity or its expression. However, the drug significantly increased iNOS mRNA levels after 4 h incubation in presence of pro-inflammatory stimuli. This stimulatory effect was transient, since no differences in either iNOS mRNA or protein levels were detected after 24 h. Interestingly, reduced levels of iNOS mRNA were detected after 48 hours, suggesting that rapamycin can modify iNOS mRNA stability. In this regard, we found that rapamycin significantly reduced the half-life of iNOS mRNA, from 4 h to 50 min when cells were co-incubated with cytokine mixture and 10 nM rapamycin. Similarly, rapamycin induced a significant up-regulation of tristetraprolin (TTP), a protein involved in the regulation of iNOS mRNA stability.
CONCLUSIONSThe present findings show that mTOR controls the rate of iNOS mRNA degradation in astrocytes. Together with the marked anti-inflammatory effects that we previously observed in microglial cells, these data suggest possible beneficial effects of mTOR inhibitors in the treatment of inflammatory-based CNS pathologies.