NLRP1 Inflammasome Activation in the Hippocampal Formation in Alzheimer’s Disease: Correlation with Neuropathological Changes and Unbiasedly Estimated Neuronal Loss

Ena Španić, Lea Langer Horvat, Katarina Ilić, Patrick R. Hof, Goran Šimić

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Neuroinflammation is one of the core pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as both amyloid β (Aβ) and tau monomers and oligomers can trigger the long-term pro-inflammatory phenotype of microglial cells with consequent overactivation of the inflammasomes. To investigate the NLRP1 inflammasome activation in AD, we analyzed the expression of NLRP1, ASC, cleaved gasdermin (cGSDMD), and active caspase-6 (CASP-6) proteins in each hippocampal subdivision (hilar part of CA3, CA2/3, CA1, subiculum) of postmortem tissue of 9 cognitively healthy controls (HC) and 11 AD patients whose disease duration varied from 3 to 7 years after the clinical diagnosis. The total number of neurons, along with the total number of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs), were estimated in Nissl- and adjacent modified Bielschowsky-stained sections, respectively, using the optical disector method. The same 9 HC and 11 AD cases were additionally semiquantitatively analyzed for expression of IBA1, HLA-DR, and CD68 microglial markers. Our results show that the expression of NLRP1, ASC, and CASP-6 is present in a significantly greater number of hippocampal formation neurons in AD brains compared to controls, suggesting that the NLRP1 inflammasome is more active in the AD brain. None of the investigated inflammasome and microglial markers were found to correlate with the age of the subjects or the duration of AD. However, besides positive correlations with microglial IBA1 expression in the subiculum and with microglial CD68 expression in the CA1 field and subiculum in the AD group, the overall NLRP1 expression in the hippocampal formation was positively correlated with the number of NFTs, thus providing a causal link between neuroinflammation and neurofibrillary degeneration. The accumulation of AT8-immunoreactive phosphorylated tau proteins that we observed at nuclear pores of large pyramidal neurons of the Ammon’s horn further supports their role in the extent of neuronal dysfunction and degeneration in AD. This is important because unlike fibrillar amyloid-β deposits that are not related to dementia severity, total NFTs and neuron numbers in the hippocampal formation, especially in the CA1 field, are the best correlates of cognitive deterioration in both human brain aging and AD. Our findings also support the notion that the CA2 field vulnerability is strongly linked to specific susceptibilities to different tauopathies, including primary age-related tauopathy. Altogether, these findings contrast with reports of nonsignificant microglial activation in aged nonhuman primates and indicate that susceptibility to inflammasome activation may render the human brain comparatively more vulnerable to neurodegenerative changes and AD. In conclusion, our results confirm a key role of NLRP1 inflammasome in AD pathogenesis and suggest NLRP1 as a potential diagnostic marker and therapeutic target to slow or prevent AD progression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2223
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • NLRP3
  • hippocampus
  • inflammasome
  • microglia
  • neurofibrillary pathology
  • tau protein


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