Brain insulin resistance and neuroinflammation are known to increase with age. Insulin exerts metabolic roles on neurons and astrocytes, but its effects on microglia is unclear. In this study we investigated whether insulin affected microglia in the hippocampus of young and aged rats. We injected intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) insulin (20 mU) or vehicle for five days and evaluated microglial inflammatory markers in the hippocampus of young (3 months) Wistar rats. Increased microglial activation (Iba-1+CD68+cells) and COX-2/IL-1β levels in the hippocampus were found. Since the aged brain is an experimental model for brain insulin resistance and chronic neuroinflammation we submitted aged rats (22 months) to i.c.v. insulin/vehicle administration and found no significant increase in Iba-1+CD68+ microglia or COX-2/IL-1β levels. To further investigate whether insulin triggered transient or persistent proinflammatory responses, young rats were evaluated eight-days after the last insulin injection. Microglia were persistently activated, and COX-2 levels remained elevated in the hippocampus, which paralleled increased spatial memory performance in the Morris Water Maze behavioral task. To determine if microglia were directly responsive to insulin, primary microglia were challenged with insulin and increased Akt Ser473 phosphorylation, a protein activated by the insulin receptor, was detected. These data suggest that microglia in the hippocampus integrate insulin signaling and neuroinflammatory responses and that this signal is disrupted during chronic inflammation. In our concept, the disruption between microglia activation by insulin signaling is a new pathological mechanism behind insulin resistance in the aging brain.
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