Neuroinflammation in Gulf War Illness is linked with HMGB1 and complement activation, which can be discerned from brain-derived extracellular vesicles in the blood Academic Article uri icon


  • Cognitive dysfunction and neuroinflammation are conspicuously observed in Gulf War Illness (GWI). We investigated whether brain inflammation in GWI is associated with activation of high mobility group box-1 (HMGB1) and complement-related proteins in neurons and astrocytes, and brain inflammation can be tracked through neuron-derived extracellular vesicles (NDEVs) and astrocyte-derived EVs (ADEVs) found in the circulating blood. We exposed animals to GWI-related chemicals pyridostigmine bromide, DEET and permethrin, and moderate stress for 28 days. We performed behavioral tests 10 months post-exposure and quantified activated microglia and reactive astrocytes in the cerebral cortex. Then, we measured the concentration of HMGB1, proinflammatory cytokines, and complement activation-related proteins in the cerebral cortex, and NDEVs and ADEVs in the circulating blood. Cognitive impairments persisted in GWI rats at 10 months post-exposure, which were associated with increased density of activated microglia and reactive astrocytes in the cerebral cortex. Moreover, the level of HMGB1 was elevated in the cerebral cortex with altered expression in the cytoplasm of neuronal soma and dendrites as well as the extracellular space. Also, higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines (TNFa, IL-1b, and IL-6), and complement activation-related proteins (C3 and TccC5b-9) were seen in the cerebral cortex. Remarkably, increased levels of HMGB1 and proinflammatory cytokines observed in the cerebral cortex of GWI rats could also be found in NDEVs isolated from the blood. Similarly, elevated levels of complement proteins seen in the cerebral cortex could be found in ADEVs. The results provide new evidence that persistent cognitive dysfunction and chronic neuroinflammation in a model of GWI are linked with elevated HMGB1 concentration and complement activation. Furthermore, the results demonstrated that multiple biomarkers of neuroinflammation could be tracked reliably via analyses of NDEVs and ADEVs in the circulating blood. Execution of such a liquid biopsy approach is especially useful in clinical trials for monitoring the remission, persistence or progression of brain inflammation in GWI patients with drug treatment.

altmetric score

  • 14.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Madhu, L. N., Attaluri, S., Kodali, M., Shuai, B., Upadhya, R., Gitai, D., & Shetty, A. K.

citation count

  • 23

publication date

  • June 2019