Microglial-specific transcriptome changes following chronic alcohol consumption

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Microglia are fundamentally important immune cells within the central nervous system (CNS) that respond to environmental challenges to maintain normal physiological processes. Alterations in steady-state cellular function and over-activation of microglia can facilitate the initiation and progression of neuropathological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Major Depressive Disorder. Alcohol consumption disrupts signaling pathways including both innate and adaptive immune responses that are necessary for CNS homeostasis. Coordinate expression of these genes is not ascertained from an admixture of CNS cell-types, underscoring the importance of examining isolated cellular populations to reveal systematic gene expression changes arising from mature microglia. Unbiased RNA-Seq profiling was used to identify gene expression changes in isolated prefrontal cortical microglia in response to recurring bouts of voluntary alcohol drinking behavior. The voluntary ethanol paradigm utilizes long-term consumption ethanol that results in escalated alcohol intake and altered cortical plasticity that is seen in humans. Gene coexpression analysis identified a coordinately regulated group of genes, unique to microglia, that collectively are associated with alcohol consumption. Genes within this group are involved in toll-like receptor signaling and transforming growth factor beta signaling. Network connectivity of this group identified Siglech as a putative hub gene and highlighted the potential importance of proteases in the microglial response to chronic ethanol. In conclusion, we identified a distinctive microglial gene expression signature for neuroimmune responses related to alcohol consumption that provides valuable insight into microglia-specific changes underlying the development of substance abuse, and possibly other CNS disorders.HIGHLIGHTSMost microglial expression changes are not identified in a cellular admixture.Cortical microglia have distinct ethanol-responsive gene networks.TLR and TGF-β signaling genes are altered in microglia in response to ethanol.

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