Post-traumatic anxiety notably involves inflammation, but its causes and functional significance are yet unclear. Here, we report that failure of the innate immune system Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) to limit inflammation is causally involved with anxiety-associated inflammation and that peripheral administration of specific oligonucleotide activators of TLR9 may prevent post-traumatic consequences in stressed mice. Suggesting involvement of NFκB-mediated enhancement of inflammatory reactions in the post-traumatic phenotype, we found association of serum interleukin-1β increases with symptoms severity and volumetric brain changes in post-traumatic stress disorder patients. In predator scent-stressed mice, the moderate NFκB-activating oligonucleotides mEN101 and its human ortholog BL-7040, but not the canonic NFκB activator oligonucleotide ODN1826, induced anxiolytic effects. In stressed mice, peripherally administered mEN101 prevented delayed stress-inducible serum interleukin-1β increases while limiting stress-characteristic hippocampal transcript modifications and the anxiety-induced EGR1-mediated neuronal activation. Attesting to the TLR9 specificity of this response, BL-7040 suppressed NFκB-mediated luciferase in transfected cells co-expressing TLR9, but not other TLRs. Furthermore, TLR9−/− mice were mEN101 and BL-7040 resistant and presented unprovoked anxiety-like behavior and anxiety-characteristic hippocampal transcripts. Our findings demonstrate functional relevance of TLR9 in protecting stressed mammals from overreacting to traumatic experiences and suggest using oligonucleotide-mediated peripheral TLR9 activation to potentiate the innate immune system and prevent post-traumatic inflammation and anxiety.
Post-traumatic anxiety associates with failure of the innate immune receptor TLR9 to evade the pro-inflammatory NFκB pathway
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