• Article

Clozapine metabolites protect dopaminergic neurons through inhibition of microglial NADPH oxidase

Background: Clozapine, an atypical antipsychotic medication, has been effectively used to treat refractory schizophrenia. However, the clinical usage of clozapine is limited due to a high incidence of neutropenia or agranulocytosis. We previously reported that clozapine protected dopaminergic neurons through inhibition of microglial activation. The purpose of this study was to explore the neuroprotective effects of clozapine metabolites clozapine N-oxide (CNO) and N-desmethylclozapine (NDC), as well as their propensity to cause neutropenia.

Methods: The primary midbrain neuron-glia culture was applied to detect the neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effect of clozapine and its metabolites in lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and MPP+-induced toxicity. And the subsequent mechanism was demonstrated by gp91(phox) mutant cell cultures as well as microgliosis cell lines. In vivo, to confirm the neuroprotective effect of clozapine and CNO, we measured the dopaminergic neuronal loss and rotarod motor deficits in 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-generated mouse Parkinson's disease (PD) model. The neutropenia or agranulocytosis of clozapine and its metabolites was illustrated by white blood cell count of the treated mice.

Results: We found that, in midbrain neuron-glia cultures, CNO and NDC were more potent than clozapine in protecting dopaminergic neurons against LPS and MPP+-induced toxicity. CNO and NDC-afforded neuroprotection was linked to inhibition of microglia-mediated neuroinflammation, as demonstrated by abolished neuroprotection in microglia-depleted cultures and their capacity of inhibiting LPS-induced release of proinflammatory factors from activated microglia. NADPH oxidase (NOX2) was subsequently recognized as the main target of CNO and NDC since genetic ablation of gp91(phox), the catalytic subunit of NOX2, abolished their neuroprotective effects. CNO and NDC inhibited NOX2 activation through interfering with the membrane translocation of the NOX2 cytosolic subunit, p47(phox). The neuroprotective effects of CNO were further verified in vivo as shown by attenuation of dopaminergic neurodegeneration, motor deficits, and reactive microgliosis in MPTP-generated mouse PD model. More importantly, unlike clozapine, CNO did not lower the white blood cell count.

Conclusions: Altogether, our results show that clozapine metabolites elicited neuroprotection through inactivation of microglia by inhibiting NOX2. The robust neuroprotective effects and lack of neutropenia suggest that clozapine metabolites may be promising candidates for potential therapy for neurodegenerative diseases.


Jiang, L., Wu, X., Wang, S., Chen, S-H., Zhou, H., Wilson, B., ... Hong, J-S. (2016). Clozapine metabolites protect dopaminergic neurons through inhibition of microglial NADPH oxidase. Journal of Neuroinflammation, 13(135), [110]. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12974-016-0573-z, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12974-016-0573-z

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