DOI: 10.1002/alz.075812 ISSN: 1552-5260

C9orf72 dipeptides trigger neuroinflammation via the NLRP3 inflammasome

Jack Auty, Chris Hoyle, Ayesha Pointer, Stuart Pickering‐Brown, David Brough, Sarah Ryan
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



The most common cause of both frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a repeat expansion in C9orf72. The expansion is translated to produce five toxic dipeptides (DPRs), which aggregate in patient brain. Neuroinflammation is observed in patients, with increased microglial activation and elevated levels of pro‐inflammatory cytokines in CSF. However, the causes of this inflammation are unknown. Here, we investigated whether DPRs activate immune cells and contribute to neuroinflammation.


Primary macrophages or microglia were treated with synthetic C9orf72 dipeptides and levels of pro‐inflammatory cytokines released into the culture media were analysed by ELISA and Western blot. Cytotoxicity was measured by LDH assay. Mouse organotypic hippocampal slice cultures were also treated with DPRs and cytokine release measured.


One of the DPRs, GR, caused secretion of the pro‐inflammatory cytokine, interleukin (IL)‐1β, from macrophages, microglia and in hippocampal slice cultures. GR also caused significant toxicity. IL‐1β secretion was prevented by pre‐treatment with MCC950, a drug which inhibits the NLRP3 inflammasome. The inflammasome is a protein complex which forms in the cytosol of immune cells is response to “danger” stimuli, resulting in cleavage of caspase‐1 and subsequent release of IL‐1β. We confirmed that caspase‐1 was cleaved in macrophages following GR treatment. In addition, knockout of NLRP3 prevented IL‐1β secretion in response to GR. Finally, we showed that several drugs which are clinically approved for use in other conditions rescued GR‐induced NLRP3 activation.


Here, we demonstrate that C9orf72 dipeptides could directly contribute to neuroinflammation in FTD/ALS via the NLRP3 inflammasome. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this can be inhibited pharmacologically, highlighting NLRP3 as a potential therapeutic target in FTD/ALS.

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