NAI exposure ameliorates CMS-induced depression-like behaviors
During the 30-day experiment, the concentration of negative oxygen ions was monitored (Fig. 1), showing a consistent supply of NAIs.
The CMS design and timeline of behavioral observations are shown in Fig. 2a. Depression-like behaviors were examined by the sucrose preference, force swimming and tail suspension tests. The reduction of preference to sucrose reflects the core depression-like behaviors in CMS-induced depression animal model (Czeh, Fuchs, Wiborg, & Simon, 2016). As expected, the CMS treatment reduced the consumption of sucrose solution in FA group (Fig. 2b). Importantly, the negative ion intervention restored the sucrose preference in CMS-treated mice in NAI group compared with those in FA group (Fig. 2b). To further evaluate the effect of NAI on depression-like behaviors, TST and FST tests were performed. In the TST test, the CMS treatment led to significantly-increased immobility time in FA group, but did not do so in NAI group as shown by similar immobility time compared with control mice in NAI group (Fig. 2c). However, in the FST test, there weren’t any differences revealed between control and CMS-treated mice in either FA or NAI group (Fig. 2d). In addition, short-term memory, a type of working memory responsibe for the temporary storage of information, (Czaczkes, 2018), was examined using Y maze, and there were no differences found among the four groups (Fig. 2e).
It is well known that the CMS treatment prevents the increase of body weight during the one-month CMS period (Lu, Yang, Geng, Ding, & Hu, 2014). The body weight before the experiment was not significantly different among the four groups (Fig. 2f). After 30-day experiment, in FA group, there was no weight gain in the CMS-treated mice, whereas control mice gained more weight than before (Fig. 2f, g). However, it should be noted that the unchanged body weight during the research in CMS-treated mice was also present in NAI group (Fig. 2f, g), showing that the NAI exposure has no effects on the alteration of body weight in CMS-treated mice, although it ameliorates CMS-induced depression-like behaviors as mentioned above.
To exclude the possibility that the behavioral alterations were associated with inability of locomotion activity, we carried out the rotarod test and OFT test, which are used to examine motor coordination and spontaneous locomotion (Moniruzzaman, Mannan, Hossen Khan, Abir, & Afroze, 2018; Ramshini et al., 2018). It was found that there was no significant difference among the groups in the two tests in terms of time stayed on the rod and traveled distance in the open field (Fig. 2h, i). Taken together, we demonstrate that NAI exposure prevents the occurrence of “anhedonia” behavior and some aspects of “despair” behaviors induced by the CMS treatment.
Effects of NAI exposure on cortisol levels of CMS-treated mice
Hyperactivity of the HPA axis is one of well-documented factors in the etiology of depression, which can be reflected by the increased level of cortisol in serum (Dean & Keshavan, 2017; Kim et al., 2016). Consistently, the CMS treatment did induce an increase of the concentrations of serous cortisol in FA group, but not in CMS-treated mice in NAI group (Fig. 3), showing that one-month NAI exposure relieves the HPA axis hyperactivity induced by CMS in mice.
Effects of NAI exposure on cytokine levels of CMS-treated mice
The CMS treatment increases the levels of corticosterone, which is known to negatively regulate immune responses (Villas Boas et al., 2019; Zaletel et al., 2016). To explore possible mechanism underlying the effect of NAI exposure on CMS-induced depression-like behaviors, we then measured the contents of a panel of cytokines in the serum, based on the concept that cytokines play important roles in immune responses as well as HPA axis activation (Kim et al., 2016). Comparing the data from control and CMS-treated mice in FA group would be useful to evaluate if CMS treatment itself interferes the serous levels of cytokines. The results showed that the levels of IL-15 were up-regulated in CMS-treated mice, while those of IL-7 were down-regulated in the serum (Fig. 4a, b). Comparing the data from control mice in NAI and FA groups would provide the information if the NAI exposure itself has any contribution to alterations of cytokines, and it showed that the levels of IL-15 and IL-21 were increased, and those of IL-7 and TNF-α were decreased (Fig. 4a-d). In this study, a total of 20 cytokines were examined, and only a small number of them displays the changes in the serum, showing that specific cytokines are affected by the CMS or NAI exposure. The data showing unchanged levels of cytokines are included in Fig. S1.
Next, we asked if the NAI exposure contributes to the alteration of cytokines in CMS-treated mice. The increased levels of IL-15 were no longer existed, while the deceased levels of IL-7 were still present in CMS-treated mice with the NAI exposure, as compared with those without NAI exposure (Fig. 4a, b). There were increasing tendency of IL-13 and TNF-α levels in CMS-treated mice although the p value was not statistically significant relative to control mice in FA group; while in NAI group, their levels of CMS-treated mice were reduced to the control levels (Fig. 4d, e). These results showed that the NAI exposure interferes the changes of serous cytokines in CMS-treated mice.
Leukocytes, especially T cell population plays a key role in immune responses, in which cytokines mediate intercellular communication. Th1 cells and Th2 cells are the two major subgroups of T cells that are characterized primarily on the basis of cytokines they secreted (Varade, Magadan, & Gonzalez-Fernandez, 2021). Th1 cells secret types I cytokines (e.g. IL-2 and IFN-γ) which are mainly pro-inflammatory, while Th2 cells secret type II cytokines (e.g. IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10 and IL-13) which are mainly anti-inflammatory (Gharagozloo et al., 2013; Maher, Griffith, Lau, Reeves, & Higgins, 2014). Accumulated evidence supports the idea that stress leads to an increase of pro-inflammatory cytokines (N. Li et al., 2016; S. Li et al., 2020). However, the data from animal models and clinical research revealed significant variabilities in type I and type II cytokine profiles (Cuervo, Sordillo, & Abuelo, 2021; Koivisto et al., 2019; Razali et al., 2020). It seems to be clear that the examination of a single cytokine, or small groups of cytokines are not sufficient to evaluate the alterations of cytokines in depression-related animal models. Instead, one way to gain a better insight might be achieved by examining the ratios between the two types of cytokines, which reflects the balance between them and the tilt of immune response (Rostaing et al., 1999; Yoon, Kim, Lee, Kwon, & Kim, 2012).
To this end, the ratios of type II (i.e., IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10 and IL-13) and type I cytokines (i.e., IL-2 and IFN-γ) were calculated. We found that these ratios of IL-4/IL-2, IL-5/IL-2 and IL-13/IL-2 were elevated in CMS-treated mice, and remarkably the elevations of IL-4/IL-2 and IL-13/IL-2 were prevented by NAI exposure (Fig. 5a, c). There is also a decrease tendency of the ratio of IL-5/IL-2 after NAI exposure, although the p value was not statistically significant (Fig. 5b). The others were not significantly different (Fig. S2). It can be concluded that the NAI exposure is likely having the ability of preventing the shift from Th1 to Th2 cytokine profiles in CMS-treated mice.