Recent evidence indicates that ultraviolet (UV) exposure of the skin can affect brain functions such as learning and memory, addictive behavior, and hippocampal neurogenesis. These changes are closely associated with hippocampal function, which plays a pivotal role in learning and memory formation. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these UV-induced skin-brain interactions remain unclear. To elucidate the molecular signature associated with UV-induced neurobehavioral changes, we analyzed the hippocampal transcriptome in a well-established mouse skin aging model, which showed thickened skin and impaired hippocampal memory. Transcriptome analysis revealed that significantly downregulated genes in UV-irradiated mice are enriched in neuroimmune-related signaling pathways. Furthermore, cell-type analysis showed that DEGs are also enriched in microglia. Consistently, immunofluorescence imaging showed an increased number of Iba1-positive microglia in the hippocampi of UV-irradiated mice. Collectively, our findings highlight that chronic UV irradiation of the skin causes significant changes in the neuroimmune system in the hippocampus, accompanied by microglial dysfunction and cognitive impairment.
Bidirectional communication between the skin and brain regulates local and global homeostasis in the body . The skin is the first barrier located at the interface with the external environment, and it senses, collects, and responds to environmental stimuli (such as oxidative stress, ultraviolet (UV) and infrared radiation, and pollution) . Skin converts these external stresses into cellular signals. These molecular signals are then transmitted to the brain or other organs and affect the global homeostasis of individuals [1,2,3,4,5,6,7]. UV rays are an essential component of sunlight and are considered the most important source of external stress causing extrinsic aging, which is also referred to as photo-aging . Several studies suggest that UV exposure of the skin not only induces skin-related biochemical responses, but also affects signal transduction pathways in other organs such as the brain. For instance, UV exposure increases both skin and brain levels of β-endorphin in mice, which leads to opioid-related antinociception and the subsequent addiction of mice to UV light . Moderate UV exposure increases the blood level of urocanic acid and enhances the learning and memory of the mouse brain through the glutamate biosynthetic pathway . As the primary brain area involved in cognitive function , the hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory formation . Thus, the hippocampus is widely considered an essential target for the investigation of cognitive function. Previously, we reported that repeated UV exposure of the skin decreases hippocampal neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity . Although mounting evidence suggests that UV exposure may induce neurobehavioral changes in the brain, the molecular mediators are largely unknown. Moreover, the cellular players involved in UV-induced neurobehavioral changes have not been explored. To specify the molecular and cellular signatures associated with UV-induced functional changes in the brain, especially in learning and memory, we analyzed the hippocampal transcriptome in chronic UV-irradiated photoaged mice.
We established a skin aging model by sequentially increasing the UV dose three times a week for 6 weeks (Fig. 1A). The dorsal skin of anesthetized mice was UV irradiated in the treated group, and the mice in the control group were anesthetized and sham-irradiated. After UV irradiation for 6 weeks, hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining confirmed that the epidermal layers were thickened, indicating that chronic UV irradiation induces skin aging (Fig. 1B). To investigate the effect of UV irradiation on cognitive function, mice were subjected to the object place recognition (OPR) behavior test, which depends on intact hippocampal function . The discrimination index was significantly lower in UV-irradiated mice than in sham-irradiated mice (Fig. 1C, D, P = 0.049), indicating that chronic UV irradiation impaired cognitive function (Additional file 1).
To explore the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the memory deficit induced by chronic UV exposure to the skin, we performed RNA-seq analysis of the hippocampi from UV- and sham-irradiated mice and identified a total of 338 differentially expressed genes (DEGs), including 10 upregulated and 328 downregulated genes in UV-irradiated mice, compared to sham-irradiated controls (Fig. 1E and Additional file 2: Table S1). To elucidate biological functions perturbed by UV irradiation, we performed pre-ranked gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) using mouse gene ontology (GO) biological pathway terms provided by the MsigDB collection . Immune-related pathways were significantly enriched for downregulated DEGs, including immune response (GO: 0006955, normalized enrichment score (NES) = − 1.46, false discovery rate (FDR) = 2.2 × 10–10), regulation of immune system process (GO: 0002682, NES = − 1.33, FDR = 1.4 × 10–4), and immunoglobulin production (GO: 0002377, NES = − 1.71, FDR = 5.6 × 10–4) (Fig. 1F and Additional file 2: Table S1). Several genes, including Pla2g5, Lbp, and Wfdc2, that commonly appear in these pathways were significantly downregulated and validated in the UV-exposed mice (Additional file 3: Fig. S1). This suggests that UV exposure reduces the functionality of the neuroimmune system and putatively leads to glia-related disruption in the central nervous system. Thus, we dissected the cell-type enrichment of DEGs using a single-cell transcriptome dataset of the mouse cortex and hippocampus . We collected cell-type-specific marker genes for eight major cell types: hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons, interneurons, microglia, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, endothelial, ependymal, and mural cells. Our GSEA results showed that microglia (NES = − 1.31, FDR = 1.5 × 10–2) were significantly enriched for downregulated DEGs in UV-exposed mice (Fig. 1G and Additional file 2: Table S1). Taken together, this suggests that UV exposure leads to a reduction in microglia-specific gene expression and may impair microglial functionality in the neuronal system.
Microglial activation can be determined by various parameters such as cell number, morphology, gene expression, or cytokines. In the hippocampus, it was demonstrated that the extent of microglial cell activation increased with an increase in the “number of microglial cells” . To further investigate microglia-mediated neuroinflammation after chronic UV exposure, we conducted immunohistochemical evaluation of microglial activation. The number of ionized calcium-binding adaptor protein-1(Iba-1)-positive microglial cells in each group were quantified. As indicated in Fig. 1H, I, the number of Iba-1-positive cells was significantly increased in the hippocampal regions of UV-irradiated mice. These results indicate that UV exposure may induce the activation of microglial cells and consequently microglia-mediated neuroinflammation in the hippocampus. It is of note that the expression of Iba-1 was not altered at 6 weeks (Additional file 2: Table S1). The discrepancy between immunostaining and mRNA assays has also been reported in previous studies. Furthermore, immunostaining that can detect changes in the number and morphology of micrmicroglia has been suggested as a sensitive marker for activated microglia . Also, the correlation between downregulation of specific microglia-related genes and microglial activation requires further investigation.
In conclusion, our findings highlight the unambiguous dysfunction of cognitive and neuroimmune systems induced by chronic UV irradiation. By analyzing the hippocampal transcriptome, we first demonstrated that repeated UV exposure of the skin could reduce the expression of neuroimmune system- and microglia-related genes. Moreover, after UV irradiation, microglial cells are activated, which may cause microglia-mediated neuroinflammation in the hippocampus.
Availability of data and materials
All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this article and its Additional files.
Object Place Recognition test
Differentially Expressed Genes
Gene set enrichment analysis
Ionized calcium-binding adapter molecule-1
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This research was supported by a grant of the Korea Health Technology R&D Project through the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI), funded by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea (HP20C0220) and the Cooperative Research Program of Basic Medical Science and Clinical Science from Seoul National University College of Medicine (800- 20200295).
Kyeong-No Yoon and Yujin Kim contributed equally to this work
Authors and Affiliations
Department of Biomedical Sciences, Seoul National University Graduate School, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Kyeong-No Yoon, Jin Ho Chung & Yong-Seok Lee
Laboratory of Cutaneous Aging Research, Biomedical Research Institute, Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Kyeong-No Yoon, Yidan Cui, Jin Ho Chung & Dong Hun Lee
Institute of Human-Environmental Interface Biology, Medical Research Center, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Kyeong-No Yoon, Yidan Cui, Jin Ho Chung & Dong Hun Lee
Department of Integrated Biomedical and Life Science, Korea University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Yujin Kim, Jungeun Ji & Joon-Yong An
BK21FOUR R&E Center for Learning Health Systems, Korea University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Yujin Kim, Jungeun Ji & Joon-Yong An
Department of Dermatology, Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Yidan Cui, Jin Ho Chung & Dong Hun Lee
Herbal Medicine Resources Research Center, Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Institute On Aging, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Jin Ho Chung
Department of Physiology, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, 03080, Republic of Korea
Neuroscience Research Institute, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Wide River Institute of Immunology, Seoul National University, Hongcheon, Republic of Korea
School of Biosystem and Biomedical Science, College of Health Science, Korea University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
JHC, YSL, JA, and DHL designed the experiments. GP performed data quality checks. YC and KY performed the immunohistochemistry. YK and JJ processed the RNA-seq data and performed bioinformatics analysis. KY and YK wrote the article. All authors participated in the experiments or data analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
All experimental protocols were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (20-0271) of the Biomedical Research Institute at Seoul National University Hospital and were performed in accordance with relevant guidelines and regulations.
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RT-PCR validation of RNA-seq results. The expression levels of Pla2g5, Lbp, and Wfdc2 were analyzed in the hippocampus via quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction testing. The bars represent the mean ± SEM of each group. The asterisks denote a significant difference (*P < 0.05, **P < 0.01 vs. Control group. Control, n = 4 mice, UV, n = 5 mice).
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Yoon, KN., Kim, Y., Cui, Y. et al. Chronic skin ultraviolet irradiation induces transcriptomic changes associated with microglial dysfunction in the hippocampus.
Mol Brain15, 102 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13041-022-00989-6