Recently, the number of reports of encephalitis/encephalopathy associated with influenza virus has increased. In addition, the use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac sodium (DCF), is associated with a significant increase in the mortality rate of influenza-associated encephalopathy. Activated astrocytes are a source of nitric oxide (NO), which is largely produced by inducible NO synthase (iNOS) in response to proinflammatory cytokines. Therefore, we investigated whether DCF enhances nitric oxide production in astrocytes stimulated with proinflammatory cytokines. We stimulated cultured rat astrocytes with three cytokines, interleukin-1β, tumor necrosis factor-α and interferon-γ, and then treated the astrocytes with DCF or acetaminophen (N-acetyl-p-aminophenol: APAP). iNOS and NO production in astrocyte cultures were induced by proinflammatory cytokines. The addition of DCF augmented NO production, but the addition of APAP did not. NF-κB inhibitors SN50 and MG132 inhibited iNOS gene expression in cytokine-stimulated astrocytes with or without DCF. Similarly, NF-κB p65 Stealth small interfering RNA suppressed iNOS gene expression in cytokine-stimulated astrocytes with or without DCF. LDH activity and DAPI staining showed that DCF induces cell damage in cytokine-stimulated astrocytes. An iNOS inhibitor, l-NMMA, inhibited the cytokine- and DCF-induced cell damage. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that iNOS and NO are induced in astrocyte cultures by proinflammatory cytokines. Addition of DCF further augments NO production. This effect is mediated via NF-κB signaling and leads to cell damage. The enhancement of DCF on NO production may explain the significant increase in the mortality rate of influenza-associated encephalopathy in patients treated with DCF.
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