Author(s): Blais V, Rivest S
Circulating tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) has a profound stimulatory influence on mitogen-activated protein kinases that lead to nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappaB) activity and transcription of the cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) gene in cells associated with the blood-brain barrier (BBB). This study investigated the hypothesis that nitric oxide (NO) acts as an endogenous modulator of TNF-induced NF-kappaB signaling and COX-2 transcription in the endothelium of the cerebral capillaries. To this end, rats were pretreated with the nonselective inhibitor of NO synthase (NOS) N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME) and killed 15, 45, and 90 minutes (min) after an i.v. injection of recombinant rat TNF-alpha. De novo expression of the inhibitory factor kappa B alpha (IkappaB alpha) was used as an index of NF-kappaB activity, whereas COX-2 mRNA induction was evaluated throughout the brain by in situ hybridization combined with immunohistochemistry. A single i.v. bolus of TNF caused a rapid expression of IkappaB alpha transcript first along large arterioles and small capillaries and thereafter within microglia across the brain parenchyma. The proinflammatory cytokine also provoked a strong transcriptional activation of the COX-2 gene that was quite specific to the cerebral endothelium as revealed by dual labeling using an antisera directed against the von Willebrand factor. Inhibition of NO synthesis did not by itself activate these proinflammatory molecules, but it enhanced the effects of circulating TNF-alpha in the BBB; the IkappaB alpha and COX-2 signal was significantly higher in microvascular-associated cells of animals that received both L-NAME and TNF-alpha treatments than those challenged with the proinflammatory cytokine alone. Rats treated with specific NOS inhibitors provided the evidence that these effects were mediated via the constitutive endothelial NOS (eNOS) and not the inducible form. These results indicate that eNOS-derived NO acts as an endogenous inhibitor of TNF-alpha-induced NF-kappaB activity and COX-2 transcription in the endothelium of the cerebral capillaries. This autoregulatory feedback of NO on these proinflammatory signal transduction events may be an essential element to prevent an exaggerated response that takes place in cells of the BBB during systemic immune challenges.