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Neurochem Res. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 January 1.
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PMCID: PMC3011042

This article has been retractedRetraction in: Neurochem Res. 2015 September 14; 40(5): 1094    See also: PMC Retraction Policy

Anti-inflammatory effects of chronic aspirin on brain arachidonic acid metabolites


Pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mediators derived from arachidonic acid (AA) modulate peripheral inflammation and its resolution. Aspirin (ASA) is a unique non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which switches AA metabolism from prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and thromboxane B2 (TXB2) to lipoxin A4 (LXA4) and 15-epi-LXA4. However it is unknown whether chronic therapeutic doses of ASA are anti-inflammatory in the brain. We hypothesized that ASA would dampen increases in brain concentrations of AA metabolites in a rat model of neuroinflammation, produced by a 6-day intracerebroventricular infusion of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS). In rats infused with LPS (0.5 ng/h) and given ASA-free water to drink, concentrations in high-energy microwaved brain of PGE2, TXB2 and leukotriene B4 (LTB4) were elevated. In rats infused with artificial cerebrospinal fluid, 6 weeks of treatment with a low (10 mg/kg/day) or high (100 mg/kg/day) ASA dose in drinking water decreased brain PGE2, but increased LTB4, LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 concentrations. Both doses attenuated the LPS effects on PGE2, and TXB2. The increments in LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 caused by high-dose ASA were significantly greater in LPS-infused rats. The ability of ASA to increase anti-inflammatory LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 and reduce pro-inflammatory PGE2 and TXB2 suggests considering aspirin further for treating clinical neuroinflammation.

Keywords: aspirin, neuroinflammation, eicosanoids, arachidonic acid, lipoxin A4, 15-epi-lipoxin A4


Aspirin [acetylsalicylic acid, ASA], a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), is used widely to relieve pain, fever and peripheral inflammation. Low-dose ASA (75-150 mg/day) is recommended for long-term prophylaxis of thrombotic events such as heart attacks and strokes, while a higher dose (1 g) has analgesic and antipyretic effects (1). ASA irreversibly inhibits cyclooxygenase (COX)-1, which converts arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6) to prostaglandin endoperoxides, and thus reduces prostaglandin (PG) and thromboxane (TX) formation (2) (Figure 1). ASA also acetylates COX-2 (3), which converts AA to 15(R)- hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (HETE), which then can be metabolized by 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) to 15-epimeric lipoxin (LX) A4 and B4 (15-epi-LX) in leukocytes and endothelial cells (4). Lipoxins, generated by the actions of 5- and 12-LOX or of 15- and 5-LOX, and 15-epi-LX play key roles in resolution of the inflammatory reaction (5-8). Other NSAIDs are unable to generate 15-epi-LXA4, and selective COX-2 inhibitors like celecoxib prevent ASA-induced 15-epi-LXA4 (4, 9, 10).

Figure 1
Main pathways of eicosanoid biosynthesis and ASA effects.

Neuroinflammation is reported to contribute to a number of human psychiatric, neurodegenerative, viral and ischemic brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, stroke, and HIV-1 dementia (11-15). In rats, neuroinflammation can be produced by chronic intracerebroventricular (icv) infusion of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) at a rate of 1 ng/h (16), or at a higher rate of 250 ng/h (17). We reported that a 6-day icv infusion of low-dose LPS (0.5 ng/h) in rats increased markers of the AA metabolic cascade (18) in brain: activities of AA-selective Ca2+-dependent cytosolic phospholipase A2 (cPLA2) and of secretory sPLA2, AA turnover in brain phospholipids, and brains concentrations of unesterified AA and of its PGE2 and TXB2 metabolites. Net brain COX activity and COX-1 and COX-2 protein levels were not changed significantly (19-22). Many of the changes caused by LPS were prevented by 6-week LiCl feeding (19). The same low-dose LPS infused for 6 days increased lectin-reactive microglia, changed the morphology of glial fibrillary acidic protein-positive astrocytes (21), and increased protein levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and inductible nitric oxide synthase without altering interleukin (IL)-1β protein (Kellom M. and Rapoport S.I., unpublished observations). TNF-α has been shown to regulate cPLA2 sPLA2 and COX-2 expression (23-25). Thus, in this LPS model, altered brain AA metabolism is a major participant in the neuroinflammatory process.

Despite reported ASA effects on peripheral inflammation, it is unknown whether chronic therapeutic doses of ASA are anti-inflammatory in the brain. We therefore thought it of interest in this paper to examine the effects of chronic ASA on brain AA eicosanoids in the LPS neuroinflammation model, when using high-energy microwaving to prevent postmortem release and metabolism of fatty acids (26). Because brain concentrations of PGE2 and TXB2, derived from AA via COX-1 and COX-2, were increased significantly by 6-day low-dose LPS infusion, we hypothesized that chronic ASA would dampen these increments and perhaps trigger formation of anti-inflammatory mediators. We quantified PGE2, TXB2, LTB4, LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 concentrations by ELISA in high-energy microwaved brain from rats given for 6 weeks a low-dose (10 mg/kg/day) or high-dose (100 mg/kg/day) of ASA in their drinking water or ASA-free water, and infused icv LPS at a rate of 0.5 ng/h, or artificial cerebrospinal fluid (aCSF), for 6 days (19-22). An interspecies dose conversion factor based on body surface (7:1 for conversion from rat to human) (27) indicated that the two ASA doses were equivalent to daily human doses of 1.43 mg/kg and 14.3 mg/kg respectively, or 100 mg and 1 g respectively, for a 70 kg person.

Experimental Procedure


Experiments were performed under a protocol approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in accordance with National Institutes of Health Guidelines on the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (NIH Publication No. 86-23). Two-month-old male Fischer 344 rats (n = 48) (Taconic Farms, Rockville, MD) were acclimated for 1 week in an animal facility in which temperature, humidity and light-dark cycle were regulated. The rats had ad libitum access to water and food (Rodent NIH-31 auto 18-4 diet, Zeigler Bros, Gardners, PA). The diet contained (as % of total fatty acid) 20.1% saturated, 22.5% monounsaturated, 47.9% linoleic, 5.1% α-linolenic, 0.02% AA, 2.0% eicosapentaenoic, and 2.3% docosahexaenoic acid (28). The animals had free access to drinking water, and rats treated with low-dose ASA (n = 16; 10 mg/kg/day) and high-dose ASA (n = 16; 100 mg/kg/day) received the drug in their drinking water for 42 days. Water consumption and body weight were measured twice a week to calculate daily ASA intake and to adjust the ASA concentration in the drinking water.


After receiving plain water or water containing ASA, a rat was anesthetized and an indwelling cerebroventricular cannula was fixed in place as described (19-22). aCSF or low-dose LPS (1 μg/ml dissolved in aCSF, 0.5 ng/h; Sigma, Saint Louis, MO; Escherichia coli, serotype 055:B5) was infused into the fourth ventricle through the cannula connected to an osmotic pump (Alzet®, Model 2002, Cupertino, CA). Before surgery, the prefilled pump was placed in sterile 0.9% NaCl at 37°C overnight to start immediate pumping. Postoperative care included triple antibiotic ointment (Perrigo, Allegan, MI) applied to the wound, and 5 ml of sterile isotonic saline (s.c., 0.9% NaCl) to prevent dehydration during recovery from anesthesia. Following 6-day LPS or aCSF icv infusion, the rat was anesthetized with Nembutal® (40 mg/kg i.p.) and subjected to head-focused high-energy microwave irradiation (5.5 kW, 3.4 s; Cober Electronics, Stamford, CT) to denature brain enzymes and stop metabolism (26, 29). The head was cooled in dry ice, the brain was excised, frozen in 2-methylbutane maintained at −40°C, and stored at −80°C until analyzed.

Brain eicosanoid measurement by ELISA

Microwaved brains were prepared and analyzed for eicosanoid measurements as previously described (19) using PGE2, TXB2, LTB4, LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 ELISA assay kits (Oxford Biochemical Research, Oxford, MI).

Statistical analysis

A two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), comparing ASA administration (ASA vs. ASA-free water) with LPS infusion (LPS vs. aCSF) was performed using SPSS 16.0 X (SPSS Inc., Chicago IL). If ASA x LPS interactions were statistically insignificant, probabilities of main effects of ASA and LPS were reported. If interactions were statistically significant, these probabilities were not reported because they cannot be interpreted with surety (30). A one-way ANOVA with Bonferroni’s post-hoc test was performed with correction for 6 comparisons (effect of LPS or aCSF in ASA-free water and ASA-treated rats, and ASA 100 mg/kg/day vs. 10 mg/kg/day in aCSF-infused rats). Data are reported as mean ± SD (n = 8), with statistical significance set at p ≤ 0.05.


Dose calculations, water consumption and body weight

During the period of 6 weeks, all rats consumed 19-20 ml/day of water (data not shown). The calculated net weekly ASA intake equaled 9-11 mg/kg/day (low-dose) or 95-110 mg/kg/day (high-dose). Chronic ASA administration (31, 32) and 6-day LPS infusion (19, 22) were well tolerated by all rats for the duration of the study. Neither ASA nor 6-day LPS infusion significantly influenced body weight or water consumption (data not shown).

Brain eicosanoids

Prostaglandin E2

A two-way ANOVA showed a statistically significant ASA x LPS interaction (p < 0.001) with regard to brain PGE2 concentration. Subsequent one-way ANOVA with Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that LPS compared with aCSF infusion significantly increased PGE2 by 60% (p < 0.001) in rats given ASA-free water. ASA at 10 and 100 mg/kg/day decreased basal brain PGE2 by 46% (p < 0.01) and 85% (p < 0.001) respectively in aCSF-infused rats, and prevented the significant increase in PGE2 in LPS-infused rats (p > 0.05) (Fig. 2a). High-dose ASA significantly decreased PGE2 more than did low-dose ASA in aCSF-infused rats (p < 0.05).

Figure 2
Effects of LPS and ASA on brain concentrations of: (a) PGE2; (b) TXB2; (c) LTB4; (d) LXA4 and (e) 15-epi-LXA4. Data are means ± SD (n = 8) and were analyzed with a two-way ANOVA. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001 vs. ...

Thromboxane B2

A two-way ANOVA showed a significant ASA x LPS interaction (p = 0.001). Subsequent one-way ANOVA with Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that LPS compared with aCSF infusion significantly increased brain TXB2 by 2.5-fold (p < 0.001) in rats given ASA-free water. ASA alone (10 or 100 mg/kg/day) had no effect on TXB2 (p > 0.05) in aCSF-infused rats. However, both ASA doses significantly blocked the LPS-induced TXB2 increment (Fig 2b).

Leukotriene B4

A two-way ANOVA showed significant ASA (p < 0.001) and LPS (p = 0.03) effects without a significant ASA x LPS interaction (p = 0.23), indicating that ASA did not alter the LPS response. A Bonferroni post-hoc test indicated that LPS infusion, and ASA at 100 mg/kg/day increased LTB4 concentration by 10- and 19-fold (p < 0.01), respectively compared to aCSF-infused rats given ASA-free water, whereas ASA at 10 mg/kg/day had no significant effect. ASA did not prevent the significant LPS-induced LTB4 increase (Fig 2c).

Lipoxin A4

A two-way ANOVA showed a significant ASA x LPS interaction (p < 0.001) for LXA4. Subsequent one-way ANOVA with Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that LPS compared with aCSF infusion had no effect on LXA4 (p > 0.05) in rats given ASA-free water. ASA at 10 and 100 mg/kg/day increased LXA4 by 2-fold in aCSF-infused rats. ASA at 100 mg/kg/day augmented further LXA4 production by 25% in LPS-infused rats (p < 0.05) (Fig. 2d).

15-Epi-Lipoxin A4

A two-way ANOVA showed significant ASA (p < 0.001) and LPS (p < 0.04) effects without a significant ASA x LPS interaction (p = 0.10) for 15-epi-LXA4. Bonferroni post-hoc tests indicated that in rats given ASA-free water, LPS compared with aCSF infusion had no effect (p > 0.05). ASA at 10 mg/kg/day and at 100 mg/kg/day increased the 15-epi-LXA4 concentration by 2.6-fold (p < 0.05) and 3.7-fold (p < 0.001), respectively, in aCSF-infused rats. ASA 100 mg/kg/day augmented 15-epi-LXA4 by 50% (p < 0.01) in LPS-infused rats (Fig 2e).


Six days of icv LPS infusion in adult rats at a rate of 0.5 ng/h, compared with aCSF infusion, significantly increased brain concentrations of PGE2, TXB2 and LTB4. Six weeks of low (10 mg/kg/day) and/or high (100 mg/kg/day) doses of ASA in water compared with ASA-free drinking water significantly decreased the brain PGE2 concentration while increasing basal LTB4, LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 concentrations in aCSF-infused rats. Both chronic ASA doses attenuated the LPS-induced increments in PGE2 and TXB2. The increments in LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 in rats consuming high-dose ASA were significantly greater in LPS-infused than aCSF-infused rats.

The ability of both doses of ASA to prevent the elevations in brain PGE2 and TXB2 caused by LPS infusion in rats drinking ASA-free water, suggests that ASA enters brain and inhibits COX activity when given at the clinically relevant doses (2). Similarly, chronic ASA reduced brain PGE2 elevations in the experimental mouse antiphospholipid syndrome, which is associated with neuroinflammation (33). Although chronic ASA inhibited brain PGE2 formation in aCSF-infused rats, it did not change significantly the basal brain TXB2 concentration. The brain PGE2 concentration was 1900-fold greater than the TXB2 concentration in the rats infused with aCSF and consuming ASA-free drinking water. This finding suggests that COX-2 is the predominant isoform in the normal unstimulated rat brain (34).

The brain concentration of pro-inflammatory LTB4, the AA product of 5-LOX and LTA4 hydrolase (35), was increased by LPS but also by high-dose ASA, suggesting that both exposures activated the 5-LOX pathway (Figure 1). Consistent with this observation, an increased LTB4 concentration following ASA has been reported in the mouse hippocampus (36) and in other rodent tissues (37-39), as well as in humans (40). LTB4 is known to activate cerebellar ryanodine receptors, which can mobilize Ca2+ from the endoplasmic reticulum (41), target activated leukocytes at a site of neuroinflammation, and induce adhesion molecules on endothelial cells and neutrophils (35, 38). Furthermore, LTB4 stimulated proliferation and differentiation of neural stem cells into neurons (42), which might be relevant in pathophysiological disorders with neuroinflammation.

In this study, the brain was subjected to high-energy microwave irradiation to rapidly and irreversibly inactivate brain enzymes, thereby avoiding ischemic release of unesterified fatty acids and other metabolic processes (26, 29, 43). In the rats that consumed ASA-free water and infused with aCSF, the measured brain concentrations of PGE2 and TXB2 are consistent with reported values obtained with ELISA on similarly microwaved brain (19), although much lower than in non-microwaved brain (43, 44). The control brain LTB4 concentration (0.11 ng/g) also agrees with reported values in microwaved brain (45, 46).

Both low- and high-dose ASA triggered formation of brain LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 in rats infused with aCSF, and rats treated with high-dose ASA and infused with LPS had higher brain concentrations of these two anti-inflammatory mediators, suggesting some redirection of AA metabolism from PGE2 and TXB2 to LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4 biosynthesis (4). The increased 15-epi-LXA4 concentrations suggest COX-2 acetylation by ASA and increased 5-LOX activity in rat brain. In comparison, low-dose ASA increased 15-epi-LXA4 in plasma of healthy volunteers (47), and in response to acute inflammation in human blood leukocytes (48). Finding LXA4 in control rat brain is consistent with other reports (36, 49, 50).

There are few reports concerning LXA4 or 15-epi-LXA4 functions in brain (6, 7). LXA4 inhibited IL-8 and ICAM-1 expression induced by IL-1β through a NF-κB dependent mechanism in human astrocytoma cells (51). In macrophages, LXA4 reduced LPS-induced TNF-α by inhibiting activation of NF-κB, which is a transcriptional factor for the cPLA2, sPLA2 and COX-2 genes (52-55). LXA4 also was neuroprotective by acting as an agonist of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ in a rat stroke model (50).

Although both ASA doses altered brain eicosanoid concentrations in aCSF-infused rats, a dose-dependent response was not observed except for the PGE2 concentration, which may be explained by the nonlinear pharmacokinetics of ASA in rats (56). Because both ASA doses normalized PGE2 and TXB2 in LPS-infused rats, and only the high-dose ASA increased the increments in LXA4 and 15-epi-LXA4, different doses of ASA may be necessary to inhibit the constitutive COX-1 and to acetylate the inducible COX-2.

In summary, we have shown that chronic ASA, when given in drinking water to rats at a clinically relevant low- or high-dose, enters brain and triggers formation of AA-derived anti-inflammatory mediators, LXA4 or 15-epi-LXA4. Additionally, chronic ASA has a significant impact on eicosanoids associated with LPS-induced neuroinflammation. Similarly, 30-day nitro-ASA administration attenuated neuroinflammation in rats infused chronically with LPS (57). ASA also has been reported to be neuroprotective against cerebral ischemia (58), and to improve spatial learning in rats (32). Chronic low-dose ASA (5 mg/kg/day) provided cerebrovascular protection from oxidant damage in rats (59). In humans, chronic low-dose ASA was beneficial in Parkinson’s disease (60), ameliorated mood (61), and reduced morbidity in (presumably) bipolar disorder patients on lithium (62). Adjuvant ASA therapy also reduced symptoms of schizophrenia spectrum disorders in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (63). In view of the multiple reported central effects of low- and high-dose ASA, trials with ASA might be further considered for brain diseases associated with neuroinflammation (11-14, 62-64). Future studies of the effects of long-term LPS infusion with ASA, and a detailed analysis of brain markers of neuroinflammation would be informative and clinically relevant.


This work was supported entirely by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging, NIH. None of the authors has a financial or other conflict of interest related to this work.


arachidonic acid
artificial cerebrospinal fluid
enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay
hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid
lipoxin A4
15-epimeric-lipoxin A4
phospholipase A2
cytosolic PLA2
secretory PLA2
prostaglandin E2
thromboxane B2
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug


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