In CNS lesions, "reactive astrocytes" form a prominent cellular response. However, the nature of this astrocyte immune activity is not well understood. In order to study astrocytic immune responses to inflammation and injury, we generated mice with conditional deletion of p38α (MAPK14) in GFAP+ astrocytes. We studied the role of p38α signaling in astrocyte immune activation both in vitro and in vivo, and simultaneously examined the effects of astrocyte activation in CNS inflammation. Our results showed that specific subsets of cytokines (TNFα, IL-6) and chemokines (CCL2, CCL4, CXCL1, CXCL2, CXCL10) are critically regulated by p38α signaling in astrocytes. In an in vivo CNS inflammation model of intracerebral injection of LPS, we observed markedly attenuated astrogliosis in conditional GFAPcre p38α-/- mice. However, GFAPcre p38α-/- mice showed marked upregulation of CCL2, CCL3, CCL4, CXCL2, CXCL10, TNFα, and IL-1β compared to p38αfl/fl cohorts, suggesting that in vivo responses to LPS after GFAPcre p38α deletion are complex and involve interactions between multiple cell types. This finding was supported by a prominent increase in macrophage/microglia and neutrophil recruitment in GFAPcre p38α-/- mice compared to p38αfl/fl controls. Together, these studies provide important insights into the critical role of p38α signaling in astrocyte immune activation.
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