Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is a multifunctional cytokine well known for its role in inflammation enhancement. However, a growing body of evidence is emerging on its role in energy metabolism in insulin sensitive tissues such as hippocampus, a brain region implicated in cognition, learning and memory. We hypothesized that genetic deletion of MIF may result in the specific behavioral changes, which may be linked to impairments in brain or systemic insulin sensitivity by possible changes of the hippocampal synaptic plasticity. To assess memory, exploratory behavior and anxiety, three behavioral tests were applied on Mif gene-deficient (MIF−/−) and “wild type” C57BL/6J mice (WT). The parameters of systemic and hippocampal insulin sensitivity were also determined. The impact of MIF deficiency on hippocampal plasticity was evaluated by analyzing the level of synaptosomal polysialylated-neural cell adhesion molecule (PSA-NCAM) plasticity marker and mRNA levels of different neurotrophic factors.
The results showed that MIF−/− mice exhibit emphasized anxiety-like behaviors, as well as impaired recognition memory, which may be hippocampus-dependent. This behavioral phenotype was associated with impaired systemic insulin sensitivity and attenuated hippocampal insulin sensitivity, characterized by increased inhibitory Ser307 phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate 1 (IRS1). Finally, MIF−/− mice displayed a decreased hippocampal PSA-NCAM level and unchanged Bdnf, NT-3, NT-4 and Igf-1 mRNA levels.
The results suggest that the lack of MIF leads to disturbances of systemic and hippocampal insulin sensitivity, which are possibly responsible for memory deficits and anxiety, most likely through decreased PSA-NCAM-mediated neuroplasticity rather than through neurotrophic factors.