Activation of the β2 adrenergic receptor (β2AR) on immune cells has been reported to possess anti-inflammatory properties, however, the pro-inflammatory properties of β2AR activation remain unclear. In this study, using rat primary mesencephalic neuron-glia cultures, we report that salmeterol, a long-acting β2AR agonist, selectively induces dopaminergic (DA) neurotoxicity through its ability to activate microglia. Salmeterol selectively increased the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by NADPH oxidase (PHOX), the major superoxide-producing enzyme in microglia. A key role of PHOX in mediating salmeterol-induced neurotoxicity was demonstrated by the inhibition of DA neurotoxicity in cultures pretreated with diphenylene-iodonium (DPI), an inhibitor of PHOX activity. Mechanistic studies revealed the activation of microglia by salmeterol results in the selective phosphorylation of ERK, a signaling pathway required for the translocation of the PHOX cytosolic subunit p47phox to the cell membrane. Furthermore, we found ERK inhibition, but not protein kinase A (PKA) inhibition, significantly abolished salmeterol-induced superoxide production, p47phox translocation, and its ability to mediate neurotoxicity. Together, these findings indicate that β2AR activation induces microglial PHOX activation and DA neurotoxicity through an ERK-dependent/PKA-independent pathway.
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