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Interleukin-1 participates in the classical and alternative activation of microglia/macrophages after spinal cord injury

Atsushi Sato12, Hirokazu Ohtaki1, Tomomi Tsumuraya12, Dandan Song1, Kenji Ohara12, Masahide Asano3, Yoichiro Iwakura4, Takashi Atsumi2 and Seiji Shioda1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anatomy, Showa University School of Medicine, 15-8 Hatanodai, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 142-8555, Japan

2 Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Showa University Fujigaoka Hospital, 1-30 Fujigaoka, Aoba-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa 227-8501, Japan

3 Division of Transgenic Animal Science, Advanced Science Research Center, Kanazawa University, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-1192, Japan

4 The Institute of Medical Science, Laboratory of Animal Research Center, University of Tokyo, 4-6-1 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8639, Japan

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Journal of Neuroinflammation 2012, 9:65  doi:10.1186/1742-2094-9-65

Published: 7 April 2012



Microglia and macrophages (MG/MΦ) have a diverse range of functions depending on unique cytokine stimuli, and contribute to neural cell death, repair, and remodeling during central nervous system diseases. While IL-1 has been shown to exacerbate inflammation, it has also been recognized to enhance neuroregeneration. We determined the activating phenotype of MG/MΦ and the impact of IL-1 in an in vivo spinal cord injury (SCI) model of IL-1 knock-out (KO) mice. Moreover, we demonstrated the contribution of IL-1 to both the classical and alternative activation of MG in vitro using an adult MG primary culture.


SCI was induced by transection of the spinal cord between the T9 and T10 vertebra in wild-type and IL-1 KO mice. Locomotor activity was monitored and lesion size was determined for 14 days. TNFα and Ym1 levels were monitored to determine the MG/MΦ activating phenotype. Primary cultures of MG were produced from adult mice, and were exposed to IFNγ or IL-4 with and without IL-1β. Moreover, cultures were exposed to IL-4 and/or IL-13 in the presence and absence of IL-1β.


The locomotor activity and lesion area of IL-1 KO mice improved significantly after SCI compared with wild-type mice. TNFα production was significantly suppressed in IL-1 KO mice. Also, Ym1, an alternative activating MG/MΦ marker, did not increase in IL-1 KO mice, suggesting that IL-1 contributes to both the classical and alternative activation of MG/MΦ. We treated primary MG cultures with IFNγ or IL-4 in the presence and absence of IL-1β. Increased nitric oxide and TNFα was present in the culture media and increased inducible NO synthase was detected in cell suspensions following co-treatment with IFNγ and IL-1β. Expression of the alternative activation markers Ym1 and arginase-1 was increased after exposure to IL-4 and further increased after co-treatment with IL-4 and IL-1β. The phenotype was not observed after exposure of cells to IL-13.


We demonstrate here in in vivo experiments that IL-1 suppressed SCI in a process mediated by the reduction of inflammatory responses. Moreover, we suggest that IL-1 participates in both the classical and alternative activation of MG in in vivo and in vitro systems.

Spinal cord injury; Microglial cells; Interleukin-1; Interleukin-4; Mice