BACKGROUND: Interferon-γ (IFN-γ, a type II IFN) is present in the central nervous system (CNS) under various conditions. Evidence is emerging that, in addition to its immunological role, IFN-γ modulates neuronal morphology, function, and development in several brain regions. Previously, we have shown that raising levels of IFN-β (a type I IFN) lead to increased neuronal excitability of neocortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons. Because of shared non-canonical signaling pathways of both cytokines, we hypothesized a similar neocortical role of acutely applied IFN-γ.
METHODS: We used semi-quantitative RT-PCR, immunoblotting, and immunohistochemistry to analyze neuronal expression of IFN-γ receptors and performed whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in layer 5 pyramidal neurons to investigate sub- and suprathreshold excitability, properties of hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated current (Ih), and inhibitory neurotransmission under the influence of acutely applied IFN-γ.
RESULTS: We show that IFN-γ receptors are present in the membrane of rat's neocortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons. As expected from this and the putative overlap in IFN type I and II alternative signaling pathways, IFN-γ diminished Ih, mirroring the effect of type I IFNs, suggesting a likewise activation of protein kinase C (PKC). In contrast, IFN-γ did neither alter subthreshold nor suprathreshold neuronal excitability, pointing to augmented inhibitory transmission by IFN-γ. Indeed, IFN-γ increased electrically evoked inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) on neocortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons. Furthermore, amplitudes of spontaneous IPSCs and miniature IPSCs were elevated by IFN-γ, whereas their frequency remained unchanged.
CONCLUSIONS: The expression of IFN-γ receptors on layer 5 neocortical pyramidal neurons together with the acute augmentation of inhibition in the neocortex by direct application of IFN-γ highlights an additional interaction between the CNS and immune system. Our results strengthen our understanding of the role of IFN-γ in neocortical neurotransmission and emphasize its impact beyond its immunological properties, particularly in the pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric disorders.