Fingolimod protects against neonatal white matter damage and long-term cognitive deficits caused by hyperoxia
Cerebral white matter injury is a leading cause of adverse neurodevelopmental outcome in prematurely born infants involving cognitive deficits in later life. Despite increasing knowledge about the pathophysiology of perinatal brain injury, therapeutic options are limited. In the adult demyelinating disease multiple sclerosis the sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) receptor modulating substance fingolimod (FTY720) has beneficial effects. Herein, we evaluated the neuroprotective potential of FTY720 in a neonatal model of oxygen-toxicity, which is associated with hypomyelination and impaired neuro-cognitive outcome. A single dose of FTY720 (1mg/kg) at the onset of neonatal hyperoxia (24h 80% oxygen on postnatal day 6) resulted in improvement of neuro-cognitive development persisting into adulthood. This was associated with reduced microstructural white matter abnormalities 4months after the insult. In search of the underlying mechanisms potential non-classical (i.e. lymphocyte-independent) pathways were analysed shortly after the insult, comprising modulation of oxidative stress and local inflammatory responses as well as myelination, oligodendrocyte degeneration and maturation. Treatment with FTY720 reduced hyperoxia-induced oxidative stress, microglia activation and associated pro-inflammatory cytokine expression. In vivo and in vitro analyses further revealed that oxygen-induced hypomyelination is restored to control levels, which was accompanied by reduced oligodendrocyte degeneration and enhanced maturation. Furthermore, hyperoxia-induced elevation of S1P receptor 1 (S1P1) protein expression on in vitro cultured oligodendrocyte precursor cells was reduced by activated FTY720 and protection from degeneration is abrogated after selective S1P1 blockade. Finally, FTY720s' classical mode of action (i.e. retention of immune cells within peripheral lymphoid organs) was analysed demonstrating that FTY720 diminished circulating lymphocyte counts independent from hyperoxia. Cerebral immune cell counts remained unchanged by hyperoxia and by FTY720 treatment. Taken together, these results suggest that beneficial effects of FTY720 in neonatal oxygen-induced brain injury may be rather attributed to its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory capacity acting in concert with a direct protection of developing oligodendrocytes than to a modulation of peripheral lymphocyte trafficking. Thus, FTY720 might be a potential new therapeutic option for the treatment of neonatal brain injury through reduction of white matter damage.