The Role of Microglia in Sex- and Region-Specific Blood-Brain Barrier Integrity During Nicotine Withdrawal

Mohit Kumar, Jack Keady, Surya P. Aryal, Marissa Hessing, Christopher I. Richards, Jill R. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, with <5% of quit attempts being successful. Microglia activation and proinflammatory neuroimmune signaling in reward neurocircuitry are implicated in nicotine withdrawal symptomology. Microglia are integral regulators of blood-brain barrier (BBB) functionality as well; however, whether the effects of nicotine withdrawal on microglia function impact BBB integrity is unknown. Methods: Mice were treated with chronic nicotine (12 mg/kg/day) and subjected to 48 hours nicotine withdrawal. Regional BBB permeability, together with messenger RNA and protein expression of tight junction proteins, were assessed. PLX5622 chow was used to deplete microglia to evaluate the role of microglia in regulating BBB integrity and nicotine withdrawal symptomology. Results: Female mice had higher baseline BBB permeability in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus than males. Nicotine withdrawal further exacerbated the BBB permeability selectively in the prefrontal cortex of females. These effects were concurrent with prefrontal cortex alterations in a subset of tight junction proteins with increased proinflammatory responses following nicotine withdrawal in females. Depletion of microglia via PLX5622 treatment prevented all these molecular effects and attenuated withdrawal-induced anxiety-like behavior in female mice. Conclusions: These results are the first to show sex differences in regional BBB permeability during nicotine withdrawal. This represents a possible link to both the reduced smoking cessation success seen in women and women's increased risk for smoking-related neurovascular disorders. Furthermore, these findings open an avenue for sex-specific therapeutics that target microglia and BBB dysfunction during nicotine withdrawal in women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-193
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Psychiatry Global Open Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

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© 2023 The Authors


  • Blood-brain barrier
  • Microglia
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Nicotine withdrawal
  • PLX5622
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatric Mental Health
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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