Statins decrease neuroinflammation and prevent cognitive impairment after cerebral malaria

Citation: Reis PA, Estato V, da Silva TI, d'Avila JC, Siqueira LD, et al. (2012) Statins Decrease Neuroinflammation and Prevent Cognitive Impairment after Cerebral Malaria. PLoS Pathog 8(12): e1003099. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003099
Published: December 27, 2012

AbstractPlasmodium_falciparum_01-215px
Cerebral malaria (CM) is the most severe manifestation of Plasmodium falciparum infection in children and non-immune adults. Previous work has documented a persistent cognitive impairment in children who survive an episode of CM that is mimicked in animal models of the disease. Potential therapeutic interventions for this complication have not been investigated, and are urgently needed. HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) are widely prescribed for cardiovascular diseases. In addition to their effects on the inhibition of cholesterol synthesis, statins have pleiotropic immunomodulatory activities. Here we tested if statins would prevent cognitive impairment in a murine model of cerebral malaria. Six days after infection with Plasmodium berghei ANKA (PbA) mice displayed clear signs of CM and were treated with chloroquine, or chloroquine and lovastatin. Intravital examination of pial vessels of infected animals demonstrated a decrease in functional capillary density and an increase in rolling and adhesion of leukocytes to inflamed endothelium that were reversed by treatment with lovastatin. In addition, oedema, ICAM-1, and CD11b mRNA levels were reduced in lovastatin-treated PbA-infected mice brains. Moreover, HMOX-1 mRNA levels are enhanced in lovastatin-treated healthy and infected brains. Oxidative stress and key inflammatory chemokines and cytokines were reduced to non-infected control levels in animals treated with lovastatin. Fifteen days post-infection cognitive dysfunction was detected by a battery of cognition tests in animals rescued from CM by chloroquine treatment. In contrast, it was absent in animals treated with lovastatin and chloroquine. The outcome was similar in experimental bacterial sepsis, suggesting that statins have neuroprotective effects in severe infectious syndromes in addition to CM. Statin treatment prevents neuroinflammation and blood brain barrier dysfunction in experimental CM and related conditions that are associated with cognitive sequelae, and may be a valuable adjuvant therapeutic agent for prevention of cognitive impairment in patients surviving an episode of CM.

Author Summary: Cerebral malaria (CM) is the direst consequence of Plasmodium falciparum infection. Cognitive impairment is a common sequela in children surviving CM. Identification of adjunctive therapies that reduce the complications of CM in survivors is a priority. Statins have been suggested for the treatment of neuroinflammatory disorders due to their pleiotropic effects. Here, we examined the effects of lovastatin on neuroinflammation in experimental CM, and its effect on the prevention of cognitive impairment. Lovastatin reduced adhesion and rolling of leukocytes in brain vessels, inhibited blood-brain barrier disruption, and reversed decreases in cerebral capillary density. Lovastatin also inhibited ICAM-1 and CD11b mRNA expression while increasing HMOX-1 mRNA levels. Proinflammatory cytokines and markers of oxidative stress were lower in the brains of infected mice treated with lovastatin. Lovastatin administered together with antimalarial drugs during the acute phase of the disease-protected survivors from impairment in both contextual and aversive memory 15 days after infection. Similar results were observed in a model of bacterial sepsis. Our findings support the possibility that statins may be valuable pharmacologic tools in treatment of patients with neuroinflammation associated with severe systemic inflammatory syndromes. Clinical trials with statins in CM and sepsis should be speedily considered to examine this point.
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