Activation of NLRP3 in microglia exacerbates diesel exhaust particles-induced impairment in learning and memory in mice

Xiaobo Li, Yanshu Zhang, Bin Li, Hongbao Yang, Jian Cui, Xiaoyan Li, Xinwei Zhang, Hao Sun, Qingtao Meng, Shenshen Wu, Shuang Li, Jianbo Wang, Michael Aschner, Rui Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Background: The major components of traffic pollution particulate matter, diesel exhaust particles (DEPs), are airborne ultrafine particles (UFPs). DEPs can enter the central nervous system (CNS), where they may cause neurotoxicity. Methods: We established murine models with intranasal DEPs instillation in male C57BL/6 and Nlrp3 knock-out (Nlrp3−/−) mice to investigate the effects of DEPs exposure on murine neurobehaviors and related mechanisms. Morris water maze (MWM) tests were performed to evaluate the learning and memory behaviors of mice following DEPs instillation. Metabolomics were assessed using an gas chromatography system coupled to a mass spectrometer. Real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry assays were used to analyze the mRNA and protein expression levels of target genes. Murine microglia, BV2 cells were employed to assay the effects of DEPs exposure in vitro. Results: Intranasal administration of DEPs in mice led to impairment in hippocampal-dependent learning and memory. Moreover, this phenotype was linked to increased number of Iba-1+ microglia and NLRP3 inflammasome, as well as suppression of mitochondrial gene expression in the hippocampus of mice exposed to DEPs. Nlrp3−/− mice were resistant to DEPs-induced learning and memory impairment, concomitant with protection against the suppression of mitochondrial gene expression. Murine microglia cells (BV2) were exposed to DEPs in vitro and taurine was identified as one of the significantly suppressed metabolites in DEPs-treated microglia by metabolomics analysis. Supplementation with taurine efficiently rescued learning, memory and mitochondrial gene expression levels in the hippocampus of DEPs-exposed mice. Conclusions: Mechanistically, our study revealed that microglia-mediated NLRP3 inflammasome activation plays a deleterious role in DEPs-induced neurotoxicity by inhibiting mitochondrial gene expression. These results shed novel light on the potential value of nutritional supplementation against DEPs-induced neurotoxicity in individuals exposed to severe airborne traffic-related air pollutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105487
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Diesel exhaust particles (DEPs)
  • Inflammasome
  • Microglia
  • NLRP3
  • Taurine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)


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