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Abstract

Objective:

Perinatal inflammation is a major risk factor for neurological deficits in preterm infants. Several experimental studies have shown that systemic inflammation can alter the programming of the developing brain. However, these studies do not offer detailed pathophysiological mechanisms, and they rely on relatively severe infectious or inflammatory stimuli that most likely do not reflect the levels of systemic inflammation observed in many human preterm infants. The goal of the present study was to test the hypothesis that moderate systemic inflammation is sufficient to alter white matter development.

Methods:

Newborn mice received twice-daily intraperitoneal injections of interleukin-1β (IL-1β) over 5 days and were studied for myelination, oligodendrogenesis, and behavior and with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Results:

Mice exposed to IL-1β had a long-lasting myelination defect that was characterized by an increased number of nonmyelinated axons. They also displayed a reduction of the diameter of the myelinated axons. In addition, IL-1β induced a significant reduction of the density of myelinating oligodendrocytes accompanied by an increased density of oligodendrocyte progenitors, suggesting a partial blockade in the oligodendrocyte maturation process. Accordingly, IL-1β disrupted the coordinated expression of several transcription factors known to control oligodendrocyte maturation. These cellular and molecular abnormalities were correlated with a reduced white matter fractional anisotropy on diffusion tensor imaging and with memory deficits.

Interpretation:

Moderate perinatal systemic inflammation alters the developmental program of the white matter. This insult induces a long-lasting myelination deficit accompanied by cognitive defects and MRI abnormalities, further supporting the clinical relevance of the present data. ANN NEUROL 2011