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Glia-Selective Deletion of Complement C1q Prevents Radiation-Induced Cognitive Deficits and Neuroinflammation


The adverse neurocognitive sequelae following clinical radiotherapy (RT) for central nervous system (CNS) malignancies are often long-lasting without any clinical recourse. Despite recent progress, the cellular mechanisms mediating RT-induced cognitive deficits (RICD) are poorly understood. The complement system is an immediate sensor of a disturbed inflammatory environment and a potent mediator of gliosis with a range of nonimmune functions in the CNS, including synaptic pruning, which is detrimental if dysregulated. We hypothesize that complement-mediated changes in glial cell function significantly contribute to RICD. The underlying alterations in CNS complement cascade proteins (C1q, C3), TLR4, and colabeling with glia (IBA1, GFAP) were examined using gene expression, immunofluorescence, and in silico modeling approaches in the adult mouse brain following 9 Gy cranial RT. Three-dimensional volumetric quantification showed elevated molecular signatures of gliosis at short- and long-term post-RT times. We found significant elevations in complement C1q, C3, and TLR4 post-RT accompanied by increased colabeling of astrocytes and microglia. To address the mechanism of RT-induced complement cascade activation, neuroinflammation, and cognitive dysfunction, we used a genetic approach-conditional, microglia-selective C1q (Flox) knockdown mice-to determine whether a glia-specific, upstream complement cascade contributes to RICD. C1q-Flox mice exposed to cranial RT showed no cognitive deficits compared with irradiated WT mice. Further, irradiated C1q-Flox mice were protected from RT-induced microglial activation and synaptic loss, elevation of anaphylatoxin C5a receptor, astrocytic-C3, and microglial-TLR4 expression in the brain. Our findings demonstrate for the first time a microglia-specific mechanism of RICD involving an upstream complement cascade component, C1q. SIGNIFICANCE: Clinically-relevant radiotherapy induces aberrant complement activation, leading to brain injury. Microglia-selective genetic deletion of CNS complement C1q ameliorates radiation-induced cognitive impairments, synaptic loss, and neuroinflammation, highlighting the potential for C1q as a novel therapeutic target.See related commentary by Korimerla and Wahl, p. 1635.

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