Mounting evidence points to immune-mediated synaptopathy and impaired plasticity as early pathogenic events underlying cognitive decline (CD) in Multiple sclerosis (MS) and in the experimental autoimmune encephalopathy (EAE) mouse model of the disease. However, knowledge of the neurobiology of synaptic dysfunction is still incomplete. Splicing regulation represents a flexible and powerful mechanism involved in dynamic remodeling of the synapse, which allows the expression of synaptic protein variants that dynamically control the specificity of contacts between neurons. The pre-synaptic adhesion molecules neurexins (NRXNs) 1-3 play a relevant role in cognition and are alternatively spliced to yield variants that differentially cluster specific ligands in the postsynaptic compartment and modulate functional properties of the synaptic contact. Notably, mutations in these genes or disruption of their splicing program are associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. Herein, we have investigated how inflammatory changes imposed by EAE impact on alternative splicing of the Nrxn 1-3 mouse genes in the acute phase of disease. Due to its relevance in cognition, we focused on the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of SJL/J mice, in which EAE-induced inflammatory lesions extend to the rostral forebrain. We found that inclusion of the Nrxn 1-3 AS4 exon is significantly increased in the PFC of EAE mice and that splicing changes are correlated with local Il1β-expression levels. This correlation is sustained by the concomitant downregulation of SLM2, the main splicing factor involved in skipping of the AS4 exon, in EAE mice displaying high levels of Il1β expression. We also observed that Il1β-expression levels correlate with changes in parvalbumin (PV)-positive interneuron connectivity. Moreover, exposure to environmental enrichment (EE), a condition known to stimulate neuronal connectivity and to improve cognitive functions in mice and humans, modified PFC phenotypes of EAE mice with respect to Il1β, Slm2-expression, Nrxn AS4 splicing and PV-expression, by limiting changes associated with high levels of inflammation. Our results reveal that local inflammation results in early splicing modulation of key synaptic proteins and in remodeling of GABAergic circuitry in the PFC of SJL/J mice. We also suggest EE as a tool to counteract these inflammation-associated events, thus highlighting potential therapeutic targets for limiting the progressive CD occurring in MS.
- SLM2, cognitive decline
- alternative splicing
- experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
- multiple sclerosis
- prefrontal cortex