Neurotoxicity is one of the major side effects caused by calcineurin inhibitors such as tacrolimus in clinical practice. The underlying mechanisms remain unclear, and no potential protective agents have been identified yet. Here, we aimed to investigate tacrolimus-induced neurotoxicity and assess the protective effects of ibudilast, a nonselective phosphodiesterase inhibitor with neuroprotective effects, against tacrolimus-induced neurotoxicity. An in vitro assay of human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells showed that ibudilast reduced tacrolimus-induced cell death. Subsequently, using in vivo studies, we assessed the pathological mechanism of neurotoxicity and evaluated the protective effect of ibudilast. Wistar rats were subcutaneously administered tacrolimus (2.5 or 5.0 mg/kg/day) for 14 d, and ibudilast (7.5 mg/kg/day) was intraperitoneally administered once a day beginning 2 d prior to tacrolimus (5 mg/kg/day) administration. We observed that ibudilast significantly reduced the tacrolimus-induced neurotoxic events. From the assessment of excised brains, we found that tacrolimus was penetrated to brain and the brain concentration was correlated with the neurotoxicity-score, although ibudilast had no effect on this pharmacokinetics. Tacrolimus-induced neuronal damage was histopathologically evaluated using Nissl and TUNEL staining, where only the cerebral cortex and CA1 region in hippocampus exhibited neuronal death, but not the CA3 region, dendrite gyrus, and cerebellum. Co-administration of ibudilast significantly attenuated these histopathological changes. In conclusion, these results suggest that tacrolimus translocation into the brain and neuronal damage in the cerebral cortex and CA1 are the underlying mechanisms of tacrolimus-induced neurotoxicity and that ibudilast could be a protective agent against this adverse event.
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