ACS Chem Neurosci. 2022 Nov 21. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.2c00365. Online ahead of print.
Acute activation of innate immune response in the brain, or neuroinflammation, protects this vital organ from a range of external pathogens and promotes healing after traumatic brain injury. However, chronic neuroinflammation leading to the activation of immune cells like microglia and astrocytes causes damage to the nervous tissue, and it is causally linked to a range of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's diseases (AD), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease (PD), and many others. While neuroinflammation is a key target for a range of neuropathological diseases, there is a lack of effective countermeasures to tackle it, and existing experimental therapies require fairly invasive intracerebral and intrathecal delivery due to difficulty associated with the therapeutic crossover between the blood-brain barrier, making such treatments impractical to treat neuroinflammation long-term. Here, we present the development of an optimal neurotherapeutic using our Nanoligomer Discovery Engine, by screening downregulation of several proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., Interleukin-1β or IL-1β, tumor necrosis factor-alpha or TNF-α, TNF receptor 1 or TNFR1, Interleukin 6 or IL-6), inflammasomes (e.g., NLRP1), key transcription factors (e.g., nuclear factor kappa-B or NF-κβ) and their combinations, as upstream regulators and canonical pathway targets, to identify and validate the best-in-class treatment. Using our high-throughput drug discovery, target validation, and lead molecule identification via a bioinformatics and artificial intelligence-based ranking method to design sequence-specific peptide molecules to up- or downregulate gene expression of the targeted gene at will, we used our discovery engine to perturb and identify most effective upstream regulators and canonical pathways for therapeutic intervention to reverse neuroinflammation. The lead neurotherapeutic was a combination of Nanoligomers targeted to NF-κβ (SB.201.17D.8_NF-κβ1) and TNFR1 (SB.201.18D.6_TNFR1), which were identified using in vitro cell-based screening in donor-derived human astrocytes and further validated in vivo using a mouse model of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced neuroinflammation. The combination treatment SB_NI_111 was delivered without any special formulation using a simple intraperitoneal injection of low dose (5 mg/kg) and was found to significantly suppress the expression of LPS-induced neuroinflammation in mouse hippocampus. These results point to the broader applicability of this approach towards the development of therapies for chronic neuroinflammation-linked neurodegenerative diseases, sleep countermeasures, and others, and the potential for further investigation of the lead neurotherapeutic molecule as reversible gene therapy.