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REVIEW: Glucocorticoids: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Hippocampal Neuroinflammation

Alexey P. Bolshakov1, Liya V. Tret’yakova1, Alexey A. Kvichansky1, and Natalia V. Gulyaeva1,2,a*

1Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 117485 Moscow, Russia

2Research and Clinical Center for Neuropsychiatry of Moscow Healthcare Department, 115419 Moscow, Russia

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received August 9, 2020; Revised October 13, 2020; Accepted October 13, 2020
Glucocorticoids (GCs) are an important component of adaptive response of an organism to stressogenic stimuli, a typical stress response being accompanied by elevation of GC levels in blood. Anti-inflammatory effects of GCs are widely used in clinical practice, while pro-inflammatory effects of GCs are believed to underlie neurodegeneration. This is particularly critical for the hippocampus, brain region controlling both cognitive function and emotions/affective behavior, and selectively vulnerable to neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. The hippocampus is believed to be the main target of GCs since it has the highest density of GC receptors potentially underlying high sensitivity of hippocampal cells to severe stress. In this review, we analyzed the results of studies on pro- and anti-inflammatory effects of GCs in the hippocampus in different models of stress and stress-related pathologies. The available data form a sophisticated, though often quite phenomenological, picture of a modulatory role of GCs in hippocampal neuroinflammation. Understanding the dual nature of GC-mediated effects as well as causes and mechanisms of switching can provide us with effective approaches and tools to avert hippocampal neuroinflammatory events and as a result to prevent and treat brain diseases, both neurological and psychiatric. In the framework of a mechanistic view, we propose a new hypothesis describing how the anti-inflammatory effects of GCs may transform into the pro-inflammatory ones. According to it, long-term elevation of GC level or preliminary treatment with GC triggers accumulation of FKBP51 protein that suppresses activity of GC receptors and activates pro-inflammatory cascades, which, finally, leads to enhanced neuroinflammation.
KEY WORDS: glucocorticoids, stress response, hippocampus, neuroinflammation, cytokines, corticosterone, FKBP51

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297921020048