Although the peripheral anti-inflammatory effect of norepinephrine (NE) is well documented, the mechanism by which this neurotransmitter functions as an anti-inflammatory/neuroprotective agent in the central nervous system (CNS) is unclear. This article aimed to determine the anti-inflammatory/neuroprotective effects and underlying mechanisms of NE in inflammation-based dopaminergic neurotoxicity models. In mice, NE-depleting toxin N-(2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl-2-bromobenzylamine (DSP-4) was injected at 6 months of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced neuroinflammation. It was found that NE depletion enhanced LPS-induced dopaminergic neuron loss in the substantia nigra. This piece of in vivo data prompted us to conduct a series of studies in an effort to elucidate the mechanism as to how NE affects dopamine neuron survival by using primary midbrain neuron/glia cultures. Results showed that submicromolar concentrations of NE dose-dependently protected dopaminergic neurons from LPS-induced neurotoxicity by inhibiting microglia activation and subsequent release of pro-inflammatory factors. However, NE-elicited neuroprotection was not totally abolished in cultures from β2-adrenergic receptor (β2-AR)-deficient mice, suggesting that novel pathways other than β2-AR are involved. To this end, It was found that submicromolar NE dose-dependently inhibited NADPH oxidase (NOX2)-generated superoxide, which contributes to the anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of NE. This novel mechanism was indeed adrenergic receptors independent since both (+) and (-) optic isomers of NE displayed the same potency. We further demonstrated that NE inhibited LPS-induced NOX2 activation by blocking the translocation of its cytosolic subunit to plasma membranes. In summary, we revealed a potential physiological role of NE in maintaining brain immune homeostasis and protecting neurons via a novel mechanism.
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