Acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) can affect the central nervous system (CNS). The role of microglia in CNS-GVHD remains undefined. In agreement with microglia activation, we found that profound morphological changes and MHC-II and CD80 upregulation occurred upon GVHD induction. RNA sequencing–based analysis of purified microglia obtained from mice with CNS-GVHD revealed TNF upregulation. Selective TNF gene deletion in microglia of Cx3cr1creER Tnffl/– mice reduced MHC-II expression and decreased CNS T cell infiltrates and VCAM-1+ endothelial cells. GVHD increased microglia TGF-β–activated kinase-1 (TAK1) activation and NF-κB/p38 MAPK signaling. Selective Tak1 deletion in microglia using Cx3cr1creER Tak1fl/fl mice resulted in reduced TNF production and microglial MHC-II and improved neurocognitive activity. Pharmacological TAK1 inhibition reduced TNF production and MHC-II expression by microglia, Th1 and Th17 T cell infiltrates, and VCAM-1+ endothelial cells and improved neurocognitive activity, without blocking graft-versus-leukemia effects. Consistent with these findings in mice, we observed increased activation and TNF production of microglia in the CNS of GVHD patients. In summary, we prove a role for microglia in CNS-GVHD, identify the TAK1/TNF/MHC-II axis as a mediator of CNS-GVHD, and provide a TAK1 inhibitor–based approach against GVHD-induced neurotoxicity.
Nimitha R. Mathew, Janaki M. Vinnakota, Petya Apostolova, Daniel Erny, Shaimaa Hamarsheh, Geoffroy Andrieux, Jung-Seok Kim, Kathrin Hanke, Tobias Goldmann, Louise Chappell-Maor, Nadia El-Khawanky, Gabriele Ihorst, Dominik Schmidt, Justus Duyster, Jürgen Finke, Thomas Blank, Melanie Boerries, Bruce R. Blazar, Steffen Jung, Marco Prinz, Robert Zeiser