Background: A common feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology is the abundance of activated microglia in neuritic plaques containing amyloid-beta protein (Aβ) and associated molecules including heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG). Besides the role as pathological chaperone favouring amyloidogenesis, little is known about whether or not HSPG can induce microglial activation. Cultures of primary murine microglia were used to assess the effect of HSPG on production of proinflammatory molecules that are known to be present in neuritic plaques of AD. Results: HSPG stimulated up-regulation of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), production of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) mRNA and accumulation of TNF-α protein and nitrite (NO2-) in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. The effects of HSPG were primarily due to the property of the protein core as indicated by the lack of microglial accumulation of TNF-α and NO2- in response to denaturated HSPG or heparan sulfate GAG chains (HS). Conclusion: These data demonstrate that HSPG may contribute to chronic microglial activation and neurodegeneration seen in neuritic plaques of AD.
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