Methylene blue inhibits Caspase-6 activity, and reverses Caspase-6-induced cognitive impairment and neuroinflammation in aged mice

Research performed at:

1. Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Canada.

2. Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

The authors:

Libin Zhou, Joseph Flores, Anastasia Noël1, Olivier Beauchet1, P. Jesper Sjöström5 and Andrea C. LeBlanc.

Activated Caspase-6 (Casp6) is associated with age-dependent cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease (AD). Mice expressing human Caspase-6 in hippocampal CA1 neurons develop age-dependent cognitive deficits, neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation.

This study assessed if methylene blue (MB), a phenothiazine that inhibits caspases, alters Caspase-6-induced neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment in mice. Aged cognitively impaired Casp6-overexpressing mice were treated with methylene blue in drinking water for 1 month. Methylene blue treatment did not alter Caspase-6 levels, assessed by RT-PCR, western blot and immunohistochemistry, but inhibited fluorescently-labelled Caspase-6 activity in acute brain slice intact neurons. Methylene blue treatment rescued Caspase-6-induced episodic and spatial memory deficits measured by novel object recognition and Barnes maze, respectively.

Methylene blue improved synaptic function of hippocampal CA1 neurons since theta-burst long-term potentiation (LTP), measured by field excitatory postsynaptic potentials (fEPSPs) in acute brain slices, was successfully induced in the Schaffer collateral-CA1 pathway in methylene blue-treated, but not in vehicle-treated, Caspase-6 mice. Increased neuroinflammation, measured by ionized calcium binding adaptor molecule 1 (Iba1)-positive microglia numbers and subtypes, and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-positive astrocytes, were decreased by methylene blue treatment. Therefore, methylene blue reverses Caspase-6-induced cognitive deficits by inhibiting Caspase-6, and Caspase-6-mediated neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation.

Our results indicate that Caspase-6-mediated damage is reversible months after the onset of cognitive deficits and suggest that methylene blue could benefit Alzheimer disease patients by reversing Caspase-6-mediated cognitive decline.