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New knowledge about microglia is so fresh that it’s not even in the textbooks yet. Microglia are cells that help guide brain development and serve as its immune system helpers by gobbling up diseased or damaged cells and discarding cellular debris. Our authors believe that microglia might hold the key to understanding not just normal brain development, but also what causes Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, autism, schizophrenia, and other intractable brain disorders.
Chronic exposure to addictive drugs in substance use disorders and stressors in mood disorders render the brain more vulnerable to inflammation. Inflammation in the brain, or neuroinflammation, is characterized by gliosis, microglial activation, and sustained release of cytokines, chemokines, and pro-inflammatory factors compromising the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. There is increased curiosity in understanding how substance misuse and/or repeated stress exposure affect inflammation and contribute to abnormal neuronal activity, altered neuroplasticity, and impaired cognitive control, which eventually promote compulsive drug-use behaviors and worsen mood disorders. This review will emphasize human imaging studies to explore the link between brain function and peripheral markers of inflammation in substance use disorders and mood disorders.
Microglia play an important role in the maintenance and neuroprotection of the central nervous system (CNS) by removing pathogens, damaged neurons, and plaques. Recent observations emphasize that the promotion and development of neurodegenerative diseases (NDs) are closely related to microglial activation. In this review, we summarize the contribution of microglial activation and its associated mechanisms in NDs, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Huntington’s disease (HD), based on recent observations. This review also briefly introduces experimental animal models of epilepsy, AD, PD, and HD. Thus, this review provides a better understanding of microglial functions in the development of NDs, suggesting that microglial targeting could be an effective therapeutic strategy for these diseases.
Since the first studies of the nervous system by the Nobel laureates Camillo Golgi and Santiago Ramon y Cajal using simple dyes and conventional light microscopes, microscopy has come a long way – to the most recent techniques that make it possible to perform images in live cells and animals, in health and disease. Many pathological conditions of the central nervous system have already been linked to inflammatory responses. In this scenario, several available markers and techniques can help imaging and unveil the neuroinflammatory process. Moreover, microscopy imaging techniques have become even more necessary to validate the large quantity of data generated in the era of "omics". This review aims to highlight how to assess neuroinflammation by using microscopy as a tool to provide specific details about the cell’s architecture during neuroinflammatory conditions. First, we describe specific markers that have been used in light microscopy studies and that are widely applied to unravel and describe neuroinflammatory mechanisms in distinct conditions. Then, we discuss some important methodologies that facilitate the imaging of these markers, such as immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence techniques. Emphasis will be given to studies using two-photon microscopy, an approach that revolutionized the real-time assessment of neuroinflammatory processes. Finally, some studies integrating omics with microscopy will be presented. The fusion of these techniques is developing, but the high amount of data generated from these applications will certainly improve the comprehension of the molecular mechanisms involved in neuroinflammation.
This narrative review examines the possible role of microglial cells, first, in neuroinflammation and, second, in schizophrenia, depression, and suicide. Recent research on the interactions between microglia, astrocytes and neurons and their involvement in pathophysiological processes of neuropsychiatric disorders is presented. This review focuses on results from postmortem, positron emission tomography (PET) imaging studies, and animal models of schizophrenia and depression. Third, the effects of antipsychotic and antidepressant drug therapy, and of electroconvulsive therapy on microglial cells are explored and the upcoming development of therapeutic drugs targeting microglia is described. Finally, there is a discussion on the role of microglia in the evolutionary progression of human lineage. This view may contribute to a new understanding of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease strongly associated with increasing age. Neuroinflammation and the accumulation of amyloid protein are amongst the hallmarks of this disease and most translational research to date has focused on targeting these two processes. However, the exact etiology of AD remains to be fully elucidated. When compared alongside, the immune response in AD closely resembles the central nervous system (CNS) immune changes seen in elderly individuals. It is possible that AD is a pathological consequence of an aged immune system secondary to chronic stimulation by a previous or ongoing insult. Pathological changes like amyloid accumulation and neuronal cell death may reflect this process of immunosenescence as the CNS immune system fails to maintain homeostasis in the CNS. It is likely that future treatments designed to modulate the aged immune system may prove beneficial in altering the disease course. The development of new tests for appropriate biomarkers would also be essential in screening for patients most likely to benefit from such treatments.
Maternal health during pregnancy plays a major role in shaping health and disease risks in the offspring. The maternal immune activation hypothesis proposes that inflammatory perturbations in utero can affect fetal neurodevelopment, and evidence from human epidemiological studies supports an association between maternal inflammation during pregnancy and offspring neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Diverse maternal inflammatory factors, including obesity, asthma, autoimmune disease, infection and psychosocial stress, are associated with an increased risk of NDDs in the offspring. In addition to inflammation, epigenetic factors are increasingly recognized to operate at the gene–environment interface during NDD pathogenesis. For example, integrated brain transcriptome and epigenetic analyses of individuals with NDDs demonstrate convergent dysregulated immune pathways. In this Review, we focus on the emerging human evidence for an association between maternal immune activation and childhood NDDs, including autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Tourette syndrome. We refer to established pathophysiological concepts in animal models, including immune signalling across the placenta, epigenetic ‘priming’ of offspring microglia and postnatal immune–brain crosstalk. The increasing incidence of NDDs has created an urgent need to mitigate the risk and severity of these conditions through both preventive strategies in pregnancy and novel postnatal therapies targeting disease mechanisms.
Microglia play an important role in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis and the mouse model of MS, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). To more fully understand the role of microglia in EAE we characterized microglial transcriptomes before the onset of motor symptoms (pre-onset) and during symptomatic EAE. We compared the transcriptome in brain, where behavioral changes are initiated, and spinal cord, where damage is revealed as motor and sensory deficits. We used a RiboTag strategy to characterize ribosome-bound mRNA only in microglia without incurring possible transcriptional changes after cell isolation. Brain and spinal cord samples clustered separately at both stages of EAE, indicating regional heterogeneity. Differences in gene expression were observed in the brain and spinal cord of pre-onset and symptomatic animals with most profound effects in the spinal cord of symptomatic animals. Canonical pathway analysis revealed changes in neuroinflammatory pathways, immune functions and enhanced cell division in both pre-onset and symptomatic brain and spinal cord. We also observed a continuum of many pathways at pre-onset stage that continue into the symptomatic stage of EAE. Our results provide additional evidence of regional and temporal heterogeneity in microglial gene expression patterns that may help in understanding mechanisms underlying various symptomology in MS.
Synaptic signaling is integral for proper brain function. During fetal development, exposure to inflammation or mild hypoxic-ischemic insult may lead to synaptic changes and neurological damage that impairs future brain function. Preterm neonates are most susceptible to these deleterious outcomes. Evaluating clinically used and novel fetal neuroprotective measures is essential for expanding treatment options to mitigate the short and long-term consequences of fetal brain injury. Magnesium sulfate is a clinical fetal neuroprotective agent utilized in cases of imminent preterm birth. By blocking N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, magnesium sulfate reduces glutamatergic signaling, which alters calcium influx, leading to a decrease in excitotoxicity. Emerging evidence suggests that melatonin and N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) may also serve as novel putative fetal neuroprotective candidates. Melatonin has important anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is a known mediator of synaptic plasticity and neuronal generation. While NAC acts as an antioxidant and a precursor to glutathione, it also modulates the glutamate system. Glutamate excitotoxicity and dysregulation can induce perinatal preterm brain injury through damage to maturing oligodendrocytes and neurons. The improved drug efficacy and delivery of the dendrimer-bound NAC conjugate provides an opportunity for enhanced pharmacological intervention. Here, we review recent literature on the synaptic pathways underlying these therapeutic strategies, discuss the current gaps in knowledge, and propose future directions for the field of fetal neuroprotective agents.
Irisin, the circulating peptide originating from fibronectin type III domain-containing protein 5 (FNDC5), is mainly expressed by muscle fibers under peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha PGC1α control during exercise. In addition to several beneficial effects on health, physical activity positively affects nervous system functioning, particularly the hippocampus, resulting in amelioration of cognition impairments. Recently, FNDC5/irisin detection in hippocampal neurons and the presence of irisin in the cerebrospinal fluid opened a new intriguing chapter in irisin history. Interestingly, in the hippocampus of mice, exercise increases FNDC5 levels and upregulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression. BDNF, displaying neuroprotection and anti-inflammatory effects, is mainly produced by microglia and astrocytes. In this review, we discuss how these glial cells can morphologically and functionally switch during neuroinflammation by modulating the expression of a plethora of neuroprotective or neurotoxic factors. We also focus on studies investigating the irisin role in neurodegenerative diseases (ND). The emerging involvement of irisin as a mediator of the multiple positive effects of exercise on the brain needs further studies to better deepen this issue and the potential use in therapeutic approaches for neuroinflammation and ND.
Components of the neurovascular unit (NVU) establish dynamic crosstalk that regulates cerebral blood flow and maintain brain homeostasis. Here, we describe accumulating evidence for cellular elements of the NVU contributing to critical physiological processes such as cerebral autoregulation, neurovascular coupling, and vasculo-neuronal coupling. We discuss how alterations in the cellular mechanisms governing NVU homeostasis can lead to pathological changes in which vascular endothelial and smooth muscle cell, pericyte and astrocyte function may play a key role. Because hypertension is a modifiable risk factor for stroke and accelerated cognitive decline in aging, we focus on hypertension-associated changes on cerebral arteriole function and structure, and the molecular mechanisms through which these may contribute to cognitive decline. We gather recent emerging evidence concerning cognitive loss in hypertension and the link with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Collectively, we summarize how vascular dysfunction, chronic hypoperfusion, oxidative stress, and inflammatory processes can uncouple communication at the NVU impairing cerebral perfusion and contributing to neurodegeneration.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are diseases during which the fine-tuned autoregulation of the brain is lost. Despite the stark contrast in their causal mechanisms, both TBI and AD are conditions which elicit a neuroinflammatory response that is coupled with physical, cognitive, and affective symptoms. One commonly reported symptom in both TBI and AD patients is disturbed sleep. Sleep is regulated by circadian and homeostatic processes such that pathological inflammation may disrupt the chemical signaling required to maintain a healthy sleep profile. In this way, immune system activation can influence sleep physiology. Conversely, sleep disturbances can exacerbate symptoms or increase the risk of inflammatory/neurodegenerative diseases. Both TBI and AD are worsened by a chronic pro-inflammatory microenvironment which exacerbates symptoms and worsens clinical outcome. Herein, a positive feedback loop of chronic inflammation and sleep disturbances is initiated. In this review, the bidirectional relationship between sleep disturbances and inflammation is discussed, where chronic inflammation associated with TBI and AD can lead to sleep disturbances and exacerbated neuropathology. The role of microglia and cytokines in sleep disturbances associated with these diseases is highlighted. The proposed sleep and inflammation-mediated link between TBI and AD presents an opportunity for a multifaceted approach to clinical intervention.
Glial cells have been identified more than 100 years ago, and are known to play a key role in the central nervous system (CNS) function. A recent piece of evidence is emerging showing that in addition to the capacity of CNS modulation and homeostasis, glial cells are also being looked like as a promising cell source not only to study CNS pathologies initiation and progression but also to the establishment and development of new therapeutic strategies. Thus, in the present review, we will discuss the current evidence regarding glial cells’ contribution to neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s disease, providing cellular, molecular, functional, and behavioral data supporting its active role in disease initiation, progression, and treatment. As so, considering their functional relevance, glial cells may be important to the understanding of the underlying mechanisms regarding neuronal-glial networks in neurodegeneration/regeneration processes, which may open new research opportunities for their future use as a target or treatment in human clinical trials.
Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP) is a phosphorus-based flame retardant common in consumer goods and baby products. Concerns have been raised about TDCPP exposure and neurodevelopmental toxicity. However, the mechanism and early response for TDCPP-induced neurotoxicity are poorly understood. This study investigates the role of microglia-mediated neuroinflammation in TDCPP-induced neurotoxicity in mice and primary cells. TDCPP was administered to C57BL/6 pups (0, 5, or 50 mg/kg/day) via an oral gavage from postnatal days 10–38 (28 days). The results showed that TDCPP exposure for 28 days altered the gene expression of neuronal markers Tubb3, Nefh, and Nes, and led to apoptosis in the hippocampus. The mRNA levels of pro-inflammatory factors Il-1β, Tnfα and Ccl2 dose dependently increased in the hippocampus at both 24 h and 28 days following exposure, accompanied by microglia activation characterized by an amoeboid-like phenotype. In in vitro studies using the primary microglia isolated from neonatal mice, exposure to TDCPP (0–100 μM) for 24 h resulted in cellular activation. It also increased the expression of genes responsible for inflammatory responses including surface markers and pro-inflammatory cytokines. These changes occurred in a dose-dependent fashion. Neurite outgrowth of primary mouse hippocampal neurons was inhibited by treatment with the conditioned medium harvested from microglia exposed to TDCPP. These results reveal that neonatal exposure to TDCPP induces neuronal damage through microglia-mediated inflammation. This provides insight into the mechanism of TDCPP’s neurodevelopmental toxicity, and suggests that microglial cell is a sensitive responder for OPFRs exposure.
The respiratory control network in the central nervous system undergoes critical developmental events early in life to ensure adequate breathing at birth. There are at least three "critical windows" in development of respiratory control networks: 1) in utero, 2) newborn (postnatal day 0-4 in rodents), and 3) neonatal (P10-13 in rodents, 2-4 months in humans). During these critical windows, developmental processes required for normal maturation of the respiratory control network occur, thereby increasing vulnerability of the network to insults, such as inflammation. Early life inflammation (induced by LPS, chronic intermittent hypoxia, sustained hypoxia, or neonatal maternal separation) acutely impairs respiratory rhythm generation, chemoreception and increases neonatal risk of mortality. These early life impairments are also greater in young males, suggesting sex-specific impairments in respiratory control. Further, neonatal inflammation has a lasting impact on respiratory control by impairing adult respiratory plasticity. This review focuses on how inflammation alters respiratory rhythm generation, chemoreception and plasticity during each of the three critical windows. We also highlight the need for additional mechanistic studies and increased investigation into how glia (such as microglia and astrocytes) play a role in impaired respiratory control after inflammation. Understanding how inflammation during critical windows of development disrupt respiratory control networks is essential for developing better treatments for vulnerable neonates and preventing adult ventilatory control disorders.
We review evidence supporting the role of early life programming in the susceptibility for adult neurodegenerative diseases while highlighting questions and proposing avenues for future research to advance our understanding of this fundamental process. The key elements of this phenomenon are chronic stress, neuroinflammation triggering microglial polarization, microglial memory and their connection to neurodegeneration. We review the mediating mechanisms which may function as early biomarkers of increased susceptibility for neurodegeneration. Can we devise novel early life modifying interventions to steer developmental trajectories to their optimum?
Various forms of early life adversity (ELA) have been linked with increased risk for negative health outcomes, including neuropsychiatric disorders. Understanding how the complex interplay between types, timing, duration, and severity of ELA, together with individual differences in genetic, socio-cultural, and physiological differences can mediate risk and resilience has proven difficult in population based studies. Use of animal models provides a powerful toolset to isolate key variables underlying risk for altered neural and behavioral maturational trajectories. However, a lack of clarity regarding the unique features of differing forms of adversity, lab differences in the implementation and reporting of methods, and the ability compare across labs and types of ELA has led to some confusion. Here, we highlight the diversity of approaches available, current challenges, and a possible ways forward to increase clarity and drive more meaningful and fruitful implementation and comparison of these approaches.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a highly heritable complex disease with no current effective prevention or treatment. The majority of drugs developed for AD focus on the amyloid cascade hypothesis, which implicates Aß plaques as a causal factor in the disease. However, it is possible that other underexplored disease-associated pathways may be more fruitful targets for drug development. Findings from gene network analyses implicate immune networks as being enriched in AD; many of the genes in these networks fall within genomic regions that contain common and rare variants that are associated with increased risk of developing AD. Of these genes, several (including CR1, SPI1, the MS4As, TREM2, ABCA7, CD33, and INPP5D) are expressed by microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain. We summarize the gene network and genetics findings that implicate that these microglial genes are involved in AD, as well as several studies that have looked at the expression and function of these genes in microglia and in the context of AD. We propose that these genes are contributing to AD in a non-Aß-dependent fashion.
The word “glia” was coined in the mid-19th century and defined as “the nerve glue”. For decades, it was assumed to be a uniform matrix, until cell theorists raised the “neuron doctrine” which stipulated that nervous tissue was composed of individual cells. The term “astrocytes” was introduced in the late 19th century as a synonym for glial cells, but it was Santiago Ramón y Cajal who defined a “third element” distinct from glial cells (astrocytes) and neurons. It was not until 1919 when Pío del Río-Hortega, an alumnus of the Cajal School, introduced the modern terms we use today, and thoroughly described both “oligodendrocytes” and “microglia” to clearly distinguish them from astrocytes. In a series of four papers published that year in Spanish, Río-Hortega described the distribution and morphological phenotype of microglia. He also noted that these cells were the origin of the rod cells described earlier in pathologic tissue, and recognized that resting microglia transformed into an ameboid phenotype in different types of brain diseases and pathologies. He also noted the mesodermal origin of these cells and recognized their phagocytic capacity. We here provide the first English translation of these landmark series of papers, which paved the way for modern glial research. To heighten the value and accessibility of these classic papers and their original figures, an introduction to this critical period of neuroscience is provided, along with unpublished photographs. By adding comments to the translated text, we provide sufficient context so that contemporary scientists may fully appreciate it. GLIA 2016;64:1801–1840.
Drugs of abuse cause persistent alterations in synaptic plasticity that may underlie addiction behaviors. Evidence suggests glial cells play an essential and underappreciated role in the development and maintenance of drug abuse by influencing neuronal and synaptic functions in multifaceted ways. Microglia and astrocytes perform critical functions in synapse formation and refinement in the developing brain, and there is growing evidence that disruptions in glial function may be implicated in numerous neurological disorders throughout the lifespan. Linking evidence of function in health and under pathological conditions, this review will outline the glial and neuroimmune mechanisms that may contribute to drug abuse liability, exploring evidence from opioids, alcohol, and psychostimulants. Drugs of abuse can activate microglia and astrocytes through signaling at innate immune receptors, which in turn influence neuronal function not only through secretion of soluble factors (eg cytokines and chemokines), but potentially through direct remodeling of synapses. In sum, this review will argue that neural-glial interactions represent an important avenue for advancing our understanding of substance abuse disorders.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 11 July 2016. doi:10.1038/npp.2016.121.
The seven-transmembrane receptor CX3CR1 is a specific receptor for the novel CX3C chemokine fractalkine (FKN) (neurotactin). In vitro data suggest that membrane anchoring of FKN, and the existence of a
shed, soluble FKN isoform allow for both adhesive and chemoattractive properties. Expression on activated endothelium and
neurons defines FKN as a potential target for therapeutic intervention in inflammatory conditions, particularly central nervous
system diseases. To investigate the physiological function of CX3CR1-FKN interactions, we generated a mouse strain in which the CX3CR1 gene was replaced by a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter gene. In addition to the creation of a mutant CX3CR1 locus, this approach enabled us to assign murine CX3CR1 expression to monocytes, subsets of NK and dendritic cells, and the brain microglia. Analysis of CX3CR1-deficient mice indicates that CX3CR1 is the only murine FKN receptor. Yet, defying anticipated FKN functions, absence of CX3CR1 interferes neither with monocyte extravasation in a peritonitis model nor with DC migration and differentiation in response
to microbial antigens or contact sensitizers. Furthermore, a prominent response of CX3CR1-deficient microglia to peripheral nerve injury indicates unimpaired neuronal-glial cross talk in the absence of CX3CR1.
Microglia are resident macrophages of the central nervous system (CNS) that display high functional similarities to other tissue macrophages. However, it is especially important to create and maintain an intact tissue homeostasis to support the neuronal cells, which are very sensitive even to minor changes in their environment. The transition from the "resting" but surveying microglial phenotype to an activated stage is tightly regulated by several intrinsic (e.g., Runx-1, Irf8, and Pu.1) and extrinsic factors (e.g., CD200, CX3CR1, and TREM2). Under physiological conditions, minor changes of those factors are sufficient to cause fatal dysregulation of microglial cell homeostasis and result in severe CNS pathologies. In this review, we discuss recent achievements that gave new insights into mechanisms that ensure microglia quiescence.
Dendritic cells (DC) are the professional antigen-presenting cells of the immune system. In their quiescent and mature form, the presentation of self-antigens by DC leads to tolerance; whereas, antigen presentation by mature DC, after stimulation by pathogen-associated molecular patterns, leads to the onset of antigen-specific immunity. DC have been found in many of the major organs in mammals (e.g. skin, heart, lungs, intestines and spleen); while the brain has long been considered devoid of DC in the absence of neuroinflammation. Consequently, microglia, the resident immune cell of the brain, have been charged with many functional attributes commonly ascribed to DC. Recent evidence has challenged the notion that DC are either absent or minimal players in brain immune surveillance. This review will discuss the recent literature examining DC involvement within both the young and aged steady-state brain. We will also examine DC contributions during various forms of neuroinflammation resulting from neurodegenerative autoimmune disease, injury, and CNS infections. This review also touches upon DC trafficking between the central nervous system and peripheral immune compartments during viral infections, the new molecular technologies that could be employed to enhance our current understanding of brain DC ontogeny, and some potential therapeutic uses of DC within the CNS.
An unexpected role for the classical complement cascade in the elimination of central nervous system (CNS) synapses has recently been discovered. Complement proteins are localized to developing CNS synapses during periods of active synapse elimination and are required for normal brain wiring. The function of complement proteins in the brain appears analogous to their function in the immune system: clearance of cellular material that has been tagged for elimination. Similarly, synapses tagged with complement proteins may be eliminated by microglial cells expressing complement receptors. In addition, developing astrocytes release signals that induce the expression of complement components in the CNS. In the mature brain, early synapse loss is a hallmark of several neurodegenerative diseases. Complement proteins are profoundly upregulated in many CNS diseases prior to signs of neuron loss, suggesting a reactivation of similar developmental mechanisms of complement-mediated synapse elimination potentially driving disease progression.
The proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-1β (IL-1β) is critical for normal hippocampus (HP)-dependent cognition, whereas high levels can disrupt memory and are implicated in neurodegeneration. However, the cellular source of IL-1β during learning has not been shown, and little is known about the risk factors leading to cytokine dysregulation within the HP. We have reported that neonatal bacterial infection in rats leads to marked HP-dependent memory deficits in adulthood. However, deficits are only observed if unmasked by a subsequent immune challenge [lipopolysaccharide (LPS)] around the time of learning. These data implicate a long-term change within the immune system that, upon activation with the "second hit," LPS, acutely impacts the neural processes underlying memory. Indeed, inhibiting brain IL-1β before the LPS challenge prevents memory impairment in neonatally infected (NI) rats. We aimed to determine the cellular source of IL-1β during normal learning and thereby lend insight into the mechanism by which this cytokine is enduringly altered by early-life infection. We show for the first time that CD11b(+) enriched cells are the source of IL-1β during normal HP-dependent learning. CD11b(+) cells from NI rats are functionally sensitized within the adult HP and produce exaggerated IL-1β ex vivo compared with controls. However, an exaggerated IL-1β response in vivo requires LPS before learning. Moreover, preventing microglial activation during learning prevents memory impairment in NI rats, even following an LPS challenge. Thus, early-life events can significantly modulate normal learning-dependent cytokine activity within the HP, via a specific, enduring impact on brain microglial function.
Microglia are highly motile phagocytic cells that infiltrate and take up residence in the developing brain, where they are
thought to provide a surveillance and scavenging function. However, although microglia have been shown to engulf and clear
damaged cellular debris after brain insult, it remains less clear what role microglia play in the uninjured brain. Here, we
show that microglia actively engulf synaptic material and play a major role in synaptic pruning during postnatal development
in mice. These findings link microglia surveillance to synaptic maturation and suggest that deficits in microglia function
may contribute to synaptic abnormalities seen in some neurodevelopmental disorders.
Microglial cells are the resident macrophages in the central nervous system. These cells of mesodermal/mesenchymal origin migrate into all regions of the central nervous system, disseminate through the brain parenchyma, and acquire a specific ramified morphological phenotype termed "resting microglia." Recent studies indicate that even in the normal brain, microglia have highly motile processes by which they scan their territorial domains. By a large number of signaling pathways they can communicate with macroglial cells and neurons and with cells of the immune system. Likewise, microglial cells express receptors classically described for brain-specific communication such as neurotransmitter receptors and those first discovered as immune cell-specific such as for cytokines. Microglial cells are considered the most susceptible sensors of brain pathology. Upon any detection of signs for brain lesions or nervous system dysfunction, microglial cells undergo a complex, multistage activation process that converts them into the "activated microglial cell." This cell form has the capacity to release a large number of substances that can act detrimental or beneficial for the surrounding cells. Activated microglial cells can migrate to the site of injury, proliferate, and phagocytose cells and cellular compartments.
Glaucoma is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases. Despite this, the earliest stages of this complex disease are still unclear. This study was specifically designed to identify early stages of glaucoma in DBA/2J mice. To do this, we used genome-wide expression profiling of optic nerve head and retina and a series of computational methods. Eyes with no detectable glaucoma by conventional assays were grouped into molecularly defined stages of disease using unbiased hierarchical clustering. These stages represent a temporally ordered sequence of glaucoma states. We then determined networks and biological processes that were altered at these early stages. Early-stage expression changes included upregulation of both the complement cascade and the endothelin system, and so we tested the therapeutic value of separately inhibiting them. Mice with a mutation in complement component 1a (C1qa) were protected from glaucoma. Similarly, inhibition of the endothelin system with bosentan, an endothelin receptor antagonist, was strongly protective against glaucomatous damage. Since endothelin 2 is potently vasoconstrictive and was produced by microglia/macrophages, our data provide what we believe to be a novel link between these cell types and vascular dysfunction in glaucoma. Targeting early molecular events, such as complement and endothelin induction, may provide effective new treatments for human glaucoma.
Microglia are the immune cells of the brain. In the absence of pathological insult, their highly motile processes continually survey the brain parenchyma and transiently contact synaptic elements. Aside from monitoring, their physiological roles at synapses are not known. To gain insight into possible roles of microglia in the modification of synaptic structures, we used immunocytochemical electron microscopy, serial section electron microscopy with three-dimensional reconstructions, and two-photon in vivo imaging to characterize microglial interactions with synapses during normal and altered sensory experience, in the visual cortex of juvenile mice. During normal visual experience, most microglial processes displayed direct apposition with multiple synapse-associated elements, including synaptic clefts. Microglial processes were also distinctively surrounded by pockets of extracellular space. In terms of dynamics, microglial processes localized to the vicinity of small and transiently growing dendritic spines, which were typically lost over 2 d. When experience was manipulated through light deprivation and reexposure, microglial processes changed their morphology, showed altered distributions of extracellular space, displayed phagocytic structures, apposed synaptic clefts more frequently, and enveloped synapse-associated elements more extensively. While light deprivation induced microglia to become less motile and changed their preference of localization to the vicinity of a subset of larger dendritic spines that persistently shrank, light reexposure reversed these behaviors. Taken together, these findings reveal different modalities of microglial interactions with synapses that are subtly altered by sensory experience. These findings suggest that microglia may actively contribute to the experience-dependent modification or elimination of a specific subset of synapses in the healthy brain.
Microglia are the resident macrophages of the central nervous system and are associated with the pathogenesis of many neurodegenerative
and brain inflammatory diseases; however, the origin of adult microglia remains controversial. We show that postnatal hematopoietic
progenitors do not significantly contribute to microglia homeostasis in the adult brain. In contrast to many macrophage populations,
we show that microglia develop in mice that lack colony stimulating factor-1 (CSF-1) but are absent in CSF-1 receptor–deficient
mice. In vivo lineage tracing studies established that adult microglia derive from primitive myeloid progenitors that arise
before embryonic day 8. These results identify microglia as an ontogenically distinct population in the mononuclear phagocyte
system and have implications for the use of embryonically derived microglial progenitors for the treatment of various brain
In the neurodevelopmental disorder autism, several neuroimmune abnormalities have been reported. However, it is unknown whether microglial somal volume or density are altered in the cortex and whether any alteration is associated with age or other potential covariates.
Microglia in sections from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of nonmacrencephalic male cases with autism (n = 13) and control cases (n = 9) were visualized via ionized calcium binding adapter molecule 1 immunohistochemistry. In addition to a neuropathological assessment, microglial cell density was stereologically estimated via optical fractionator and average somal volume was quantified via isotropic nucleator.
Microglia appeared markedly activated in 5 of 13 cases with autism, including 2 of 3 under age 6, and marginally activated in an additional 4 of 13 cases. Morphological alterations included somal enlargement, process retraction and thickening, and extension of filopodia from processes. Average microglial somal volume was significantly increased in white matter (p = .013), with a trend in gray matter (p = .098). Microglial cell density was increased in gray matter (p = .002). Seizure history did not influence any activation measure.
The activation profile described represents a neuropathological alteration in a sizeable fraction of cases with autism. Given its early presence, microglial activation may play a central role in the pathogenesis of autism in a substantial proportion of patients. Alternatively, activation may represent a response of the innate neuroimmune system to synaptic, neuronal, or neuronal network disturbances, or reflect genetic and/or environmental abnormalities impacting multiple cellular populations.
Excessive CNS synapses are eliminated during development to establish mature patterns of neuronal connectivity. A complement cascade protein, C1q, is involved in this process. Mice deficient in C1q fail to refine retinogeniculate connections resulting in excessive retinal innervation of lateral geniculate neurons. We hypothesized that C1q knockout (KO) mice would exhibit defects in neocortical synapse elimination resulting in enhanced excitatory synaptic connectivity and epileptiform activity. We recorded spontaneous and evoked field potential activity in neocortical slices and obtained video-EEG recordings from implanted C1q KO and wild-type (WT) mice. We also used laser scanning photostimulation of caged glutamate and whole cell recordings to map excitatory and inhibitory synaptic connectivity. Spontaneous and evoked epileptiform field potentials occurred at multiple sites in neocortical slices from C1q KO, but not WT mice. Laser mapping experiments in C1q KO slices showed that the proportion of glutamate uncaging sites from which excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) could be evoked ("hotspot ratio") increased significantly in layer IV and layer V, although EPSC amplitudes were unaltered. Density of axonal boutons was significantly increased in layer V pyramidal neurons of C1q KO mice. Implanted KO mice had frequent behavioral seizures consisting of behavioral arrest associated with bihemispheric spikes and slow wave activity lasting from 5 to 30 s. Results indicate that epileptogenesis in C1q KO mice is related to a genetically determined failure to prune excessive excitatory synapses during development.
Recent studies have identified the important contribution of glial cells to the plasticity of neuronal circuits. Resting microglia, the primary immune effector cells in the brain, dynamically extend and retract their processes as if actively surveying the microenvironment. However, just what is being sampled by these resting microglial processes has not been demonstrated in vivo, and the nature and function of any interactions between microglia and neuronal circuits is incompletely understood. Using in vivo two-photon imaging of fluorescent-labeled neurons and microglia, we demonstrate that the resting microglial processes make brief (approximately 5 min) and direct contacts with neuronal synapses at a frequency of about once per hour. These contacts are activity-dependent, being reduced in frequency by reductions in neuronal activity. After transient cerebral ischemia, the duration of these microglia-synapse contacts are markedly prolonged (approximately 1 h) and are frequently followed by the disappearance of the presynaptic bouton. Our results demonstrate that at least part of the dynamic motility of resting microglial processes in vivo is directed toward synapses and propose that microglia vigilantly monitor and respond to the functional status of synapses. Furthermore, the striking finding that some synapses in the ischemic areas disappear after prolonged microglial contact suggests microglia contribute to the subsequent increased turnover of synaptic connections. Further understanding of the mechanisms involved in the microglial detection of the functional state of synapses, and of their role in remodeling neuronal circuits disrupted by ischemia, may lead to novel therapies for treating brain injury that target microglia.
Parenchymal microglia are the principal immune cells of the brain. Time-lapse two-photon imaging of GFP-labeled microglia demonstrates that the fine termini of microglial processes are highly dynamic in the intact mouse cortex. Upon traumatic brain injury, microglial processes rapidly and autonomously converge on the site of injury without cell body movement, establishing a potential barrier between the healthy and injured tissue. This rapid chemotactic response can be mimicked by local injection of ATP and can be inhibited by the ATP-hydrolyzing enzyme apyrase or by blockers of G protein-coupled purinergic receptors and connexin channels, which are highly expressed in astrocytes. The baseline motility of microglial processes is also reduced significantly in the presence of apyrase and connexin channel inhibitors. Thus, extracellular ATP regulates microglial branch dynamics in the intact brain, and its release from the damaged tissue and surrounding astrocytes mediates a rapid microglial response towards injury.
We have reported that neonatal infection leads to memory impairment after an immune challenge in adulthood. Here we explored whether events occurring as a result of early infection alter the response to a subsequent immune challenge in adult rats, which may then impair memory. In experiment 1, peripheral infection with Escherichia coli on postnatal day 4 increased cytokines and corticosterone in the periphery, and cytokine and microglial cell marker gene expression in the hippocampus of neonate pups. Next, rats treated neonatally with E. coli or PBS were injected in adulthood with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or saline and killed 1-24 h later. Microglial cell marker mRNA was elevated in hippocampus in saline controls infected as neonates. Furthermore, LPS induced a greater increase in glial cell marker mRNA in hippocampus of neonatally infected rats, and this increase remained elevated at 24 h versus controls. After LPS, neonatally infected rats exhibited faster increases in interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) within the hippocampus and cortex and a prolonged response within the cortex. There were no group differences in peripheral cytokines or corticosterone. In experiment 2, rats treated neonatally with E. coli or PBS received as adults either saline or a centrally administered caspase-1 inhibitor, which specifically prevents the synthesis of IL-1beta, 1 h before a learning event and subsequent LPS challenge. Caspase-1 inhibition completely prevented LPS-induced memory impairment in neonatally infected rats. These data implicate IL-1beta in the set of immune/inflammatory events that occur in the brain as a result of neonatal infection, which likely contribute to cognitive alterations in adulthood.
Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder of early onset that is highly variable in its clinical presentation. Although the causes of autism in most patients remain unknown, several lines of research support the view that both genetic and environmental factors influence the development of abnormal cortical circuitry that underlies autistic cognitive processes and behaviors. The role of the immune system in the development of autism is controversial. Several studies showing peripheral immune abnormalities support immune hypotheses, however until recently there have been no immune findings in the CNS. We recently demonstrated the presence of neuroglial and innate neuroimmune system activation in brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid of patients with autism, findings that support the view that neuroimmune abnormalities occur in the brain of autistic patients and may contribute to the diversity of the autistic phenotypes. The role of neuroglial activation and neuroinflammation are still uncertain but could be critical in maintaining, if not also in initiating, some of the CNS abnormalities present in autism. A better understanding of the role of neuroinflammation in the pathogenesis of autism may have important clinical and therapeutic implications.
There has been an explosion of new findings recently giving us insights into the involvement of microglia in central nervous system (CNS) disorders. A host of new molecular tools and mouse models of disease are increasingly implicating this enigmatic type of nervous system cell as a key player in conditions ranging from neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and chronic pain. Contemporaneously, diverse roles are emerging for microglia in the healthy brain, from sculpting developing neuronal circuits to guiding learning-associated plasticity. Understanding the physiological functions of these cells is crucial to determining their roles in disease. Here we focus on recent developments in our rapidly expanding understanding of the function, as well as the dysfunction, of microglia in disorders of the CNS.
Immune molecules such as cytokines and chemokines and the cells that produce them within the brain, notably microglia, are critical for normal brain development. This recognition has in recent years led to the working hypothesis that inflammatory events during pregnancy, e.g. in response to infection, may disrupt the normal expression of immune molecules during critical stages of neural development and thereby contribute to the risk for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This hypothesis has in large part been shepherded by the work of Dr. Paul Patterson and colleagues, which has elegantly demonstrated that a single viral infection or injection of a viral mimetic to pregnant mice significantly and persistently impacts offspring immune and nervous system function, changes that underlie ASD-like behavioral dysfunction including social and communication deficits. Subsequent studies by many labs – in humans and in non-human animal models - have supported the hypothesis that ongoing disrupted immune molecule expression and/or neuroinflammation contributes to at least a significant subset of ASD. The heterogeneous clinical and biological phenotypes observed in ASD strongly suggest that in genetically susceptible individuals, environmental risk factors combine or synergize to create a tipping or threshold point for dysfunction. Importantly, animal studies showing a link between maternal immune activation (MIA) and ASD-like outcomes in offspring involve different species and diverse environmental factors associated with ASD in humans, beyond infection, including toxin exposures, maternal stress, and maternal obesity, all of which impact inflammatory or immune pathways. The goal of this review is to highlight the broader implications of Dr. Patterson's work for the field of autism, with a focus on the impact that MIA by diverse environmental factors has on fetal brain development, immune system development, and the pathophysiology of ASD.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and frontotemporal lobar dementia are among the most pressing problems of developed societies with aging populations. Neurons carry out essential functions such as signal transmission and network integration in the central nervous system and are the main targets of neurodegenerative disease. In this Review, I address how the neuron's environment also contributes to neurodegeneration. Maintaining an optimal milieu for neuronal function rests with supportive cells termed glia and the blood-brain barrier. Accumulating evidence suggests that neurodegeneration occurs in part because the environment is affected during disease in a cascade of processes collectively termed neuroinflammation. These observations indicate that therapies targeting glial cells might provide benefit for those afflicted by neurodegenerative disorders.
Microglia are the primary phagocytes of the central nervous system. They eliminate excess functional connections between neurons to sculpt neuronal circuits during development and throughout adulthood. Understanding how microglia recognize and prune synapses during development is providing insight into synapse loss and dysfunction in disease.
Microglia maintain homeostasis in the brain, but whether aberrant microglial activation can cause neurodegeneration remains controversial. Here, we use transcriptome profiling to demonstrate that deficiency in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) gene progranulin (Grn) leads to an age-dependent, progressive upregulation of lysosomal and innate immunity genes, increased complement production, and enhanced synaptic pruning in microglia. During aging, Grn(-/-) mice show profound microglia infiltration and preferential elimination of inhibitory synapses in the ventral thalamus, which lead to hyperexcitability in the thalamocortical circuits and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)-like grooming behaviors. Remarkably, deleting C1qa gene significantly reduces synaptic pruning by Grn(-/-) microglia and mitigates neurodegeneration, behavioral phenotypes, and premature mortality in Grn(-/-) mice. Together, our results uncover a previously unrecognized role of progranulin in suppressing aberrant microglia activation during aging. These results represent an important conceptual advance that complement activation and microglia-mediated synaptic pruning are major drivers, rather than consequences, of neurodegeneration caused by progranulin deficiency.
Synapse loss in Alzheimer's disease (AD) correlates with cognitive decline. Involvement of microglia and complement in AD has been attributed to neuroinflammation, prominent late in disease. Here we show in mouse models that complement and microglia mediate synaptic loss early in AD. C1q, the initiating protein of the classical complement cascade, is increased and associated with synapses before overt plaque deposition. Inhibition of C1q, C3 or the microglial complement receptor CR3, reduces the number of phagocytic microglia as well as the extent of early synapse loss. C1q is necessary for the toxic effects of soluble β-amyloid (Aβ) oligomers on synapses and hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP). Finally, microglia in adult brains engulf synaptic material in a CR3-dependent process when exposed to soluble Aβ oligomers. Together, these findings suggest that the complement-dependent pathway and microglia that prune excess synapses in development are inappropriately activated and mediate synapse loss in AD.
Schizophrenia is a heritable brain illness with unknown pathogenic mechanisms. Schizophrenia's strongest genetic association at a population level involves variation in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus, but the genes and molecular mechanisms accounting for this have been challenging to identify. Here we show that this association arises in part from many structurally diverse alleles of the complement component 4 (C4) genes. We found that these alleles generated widely varying levels of C4A and C4B expression in the brain, with each common C4 allele associating with schizophrenia in proportion to its tendency to generate greater expression of C4A. Human C4 protein localized to neuronal synapses, dendrites, axons, and cell bodies. In mice, C4 mediated synapse elimination during postnatal development. These results implicate excessive complement activity in the development of schizophrenia and may help explain the reduced numbers of synapses in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia.
Under the guidance of Ramón y Cajal, a plethora of students flourished and began to apply his silver impregnation methods to study brain cells other than neurons: the neuroglia. In the first decades of the XXth century, Nicolás Achúcarro was one of the first researchers to visualize the brain cells with phagocytic capacity that we know today as microglia. Later, his pupil Pío del Río-Hortega developed modifications of Achúcarro´s methods and was able to specifically observe the fine morphological intricacies of microglia. These findings contradicted Cajal´s own views on cells that he thought belonged to the same class as oligodendroglia (the so called “third element” of the nervous system), leading to a long-standing discussion. It was only in 1924 that Río-Hortega´s observations prevailed worldwide, thus recognizing microglia as a unique cell type. This late landing in the Neuroscience arena still has repercussions in the XXIst century, as microglia remain one of the least understood cell populations of the healthy brain. For decades, microglia in normal, physiological conditions in the adult brain were considered to be merely “resting”, and their contribution as “activated” cells to the neuroinflammatory response in pathological conditions mostly detrimental. It was not until microglia were imaged in real time in the intact brain using two-photon in vivo imaging that the extreme motility of their fine processes was revealed. These findings led to a conceptual revolution in the field: “resting” microglia are constantly surveying the brain parenchyma in normal physiological conditions. Today, following Cajal’s school of thought, structural and functional investigations of microglial morphology, dynamics, and relationships with neurons and other glial cells are experiencing a renaissance and we stand at the brink of discovering new roles for these unique immune cells in the healthy brain, an essential step to understand their causal relationship to diseases.
In the developing nervous system, synaptic connections are formed in excess and must remodel to achieve the precise synaptic connectivity characteristic of the mature organism. Synaptic pruning is a developmental process in which subsets of synapses are eliminated while the remaining synapses are preserved and strengthened. Recent findings have demonstrated unexpected roles for glial cells in this developmental process. These data demonstrate that phagocytic glia engulf synaptic and/or axonal elements in the developing nervous system and disruptions in this process result in sustained deficits in synaptic connectivity. These new findings highlight the importance of glia for nervous system development and function and may shed new light on mechanisms underlying nervous system disease.
Microglia are the resident CNS immune cells and active surveyors of the extracellular environment. While past work has focused on the role of these cells during disease, recent imaging studies reveal dynamic interactions between microglia and synaptic elements in the healthy brain. Despite these intriguing observations, the precise function of microglia at remodeling synapses and the mechanisms that underlie microglia-synapse interactions remain elusive. In the current study, we demonstrate a role for microglia in activity-dependent synaptic pruning in the postnatal retinogeniculate system. We show that microglia engulf presynaptic inputs during peak retinogeniculate pruning and that engulfment is dependent upon neural activity and the microglia-specific phagocytic signaling pathway, complement receptor 3(CR3)/C3. Furthermore, disrupting microglia-specific CR3/C3 signaling resulted in sustained deficits in synaptic connectivity. These results define a role for microglia during postnatal development and identify underlying mechanisms by which microglia engulf and remodel developing synapses.
Remodeling of brain circuits, including the formation, modification and elimination of synaptic structures, occurs throughout life as animals adapt to their environment. Until very recently, known mechanisms for experience-dependent synaptic plasticity had placed neurons and their structural interactions with astrocytes in the spotlight. However microglia, the immune cells of the brain, are very active even in the absence of pathological insults and their processes periodically contact dendritic spines and axon terminals in vivo.1-3 This intriguing behavior prompted us to explore, using electron microscopy and two-photon in vivo imaging in the primary visual cortex of juvenile mice, a possible role for quiescent microglia in the modification of synaptic structures.4 Our work uncovered subtle changes in the behavior of microglia during manipulations of visual experience including regulation of perisynaptic extracellular spaces, contact with subsets of structurally dynamic and transient dendritic spines, and phagocytic engulfment of intact synapses. Based on these results, here we further discuss three means of synapse modification or elimination that could be mediated by microglia in the context of normal experience-dependent plasticity.
Microglia are resident brain cells that sense pathological tissue alterations. They can develop into brain macrophages and
perform immunological functions. However, expression of immune proteins by microglia is not synonymous with inflammation,
because these molecules can have central nervous system (CNS)–specific roles. Through their involvement in pain mechanisms,
microglia also respond to external threats. Experimental studies support the idea that microglia have a role in the maintenance
of synaptic integrity. Analogous to electricians, they are capable of removing defunct axon terminals, thereby helping neuronal
connections to stay intact. Microglia in healthy CNS tissue do not qualify as macrophages, and their specific functions are
beginning to be explored.
Until recently, the brain was studied almost exclusively by neuroscientists and the immune system by immunologists, fuelling the notion that these systems represented two isolated entities. However, as more data suggest an important role of the immune system in regulating the progression of brain aging and neurodegenerative disease, it has become clear that the crosstalk between these systems can no longer be ignored and a new interdisciplinary approach is necessary. A central question that emerges is whether immune and inflammatory pathways become hyperactivated with age and promote degeneration or whether insufficient immune responses, which fail to cope with age-related stress, may contribute to disease. We try to explore here the consequences of gain versus loss of function with an emphasis on microglia as sensors and effectors of immune function in the brain, and we discuss the potential role of the peripheral environment in neurodegenerative diseases.
Many proteins first identified in the immune system are also expressed in the developing and adult nervous system. Unexpectedly, recent studies reveal that a number of these proteins, in addition to their immunological roles, are essential for the establishment, function, and modification of synaptic connections. These include proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., TNFalpha, IL-6), proteins of the innate immune system (e.g., complement C1q and C3, pentraxins, Dscam), members of the major histocompatibility complex class I (MHCI) family, and MHCI-binding immunoreceptors and their components (e.g., PIRB, Ly49, DAP12, CD3zeta). Understanding how these proteins function in neurons will clarify the molecular basis of fundamental events in brain development and plasticity and may add a new dimension to our understanding of neural-immune interactions in health and disease.
Cytokines are pleotrophic proteins that coordinate the host response to infection as well as mediate normal, ongoing signaling between cells of nonimmune tissues, including the nervous system. As a consequence of this dual role, cytokines induced in response to maternal infection or prenatal hypoxia can profoundly impact fetal neurodevelopment. The neurodevelopmental roles of individual cytokine signaling pathways are being elucidated through gain- and loss-of-function studies in cell culture and model organisms. We review this work with a particular emphasis on studies where cytokines, their receptors, or components of their signaling pathways have been altered in vivo. The extensive and diverse requirements for properly regulated cytokine signaling during normal nervous system development revealed by these studies sets the foundation for ongoing and future work aimed at understanding how cytokines induced normally and pathologically during critical stages of fetal development alter nervous system function and behavior later in life.
During critical periods of activity-dependent neural development, early experience sculpts connections to establish adult circuits via the selection and strengthening of subsets of synapses, combined with weakening and elimination of others. This selection process can even begin well before sensory experience. For example, retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons from the two eyes are initially intermixed with each other within the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the thalamus and later sort from each other to achieve the eye-specific and topographically ordered layers of the LGN. Key experiments indicate that appropriate correlated patterns of neural activity are required for segregation (Stellwagen and Shatz, 2002, Torborg and Feller, 2005 and Huberman et al., 2008). But just how these patterns of early activity contribute to synapse remodeling and ultimately to lasting structural change remain unclear.
Systemic infection with Escherichia coli on postnatal day (P) 4 in rats results in significantly altered brain cytokine responses and behavioral changes in adulthood, but only in response to a subsequent immune challenge with lipopolysaccharide [LPS]. The basis for these changes may be long-term changes in glial cell function. We assessed glial and neural cell genesis in the hippocampus, parietal cortex (PAR), and prefrontal cortex (PFC), in neonates just after the infection, as well as in adulthood in response to LPS. E. coli increased the number of newborn microglia within the hippocampus and PAR compared to controls. The total number of microglia was also significantly increased in E. coli-treated pups, with a concomitant decrease in total proliferation. On P33, there were large decreases in numbers of cells coexpressing BrdU and NeuN in all brain regions of E. coli rats compared to controls. In adulthood, basal neurogenesis within the dentate gyrus (DG) did not differ between groups; however, in response to LPS, there was a decrease in neurogenesis in early-infected rats, but an increase in controls to the same challenge. There were also significantly more microglia in the adult DG of early-infected rats, although microglial proliferation in response to LPS was increased in controls. Taken together, we have provided evidence that systemic infection with E. coli early in life has significant, enduring consequences for brain development and subsequent adult function. These changes include marked alterations in glia, as well as influences on neurogenesis in brain regions important for cognition.
Microglia, the macrophages of the central nervous system parenchyma, have in the normal healthy brain a distinct phenotype induced by molecules expressed on or secreted by adjacent neurons and astrocytes, and this phenotype is maintained in part by virtue of the blood-brain barrier's exclusion of serum components. Microglia are continually active, their processes palpating and surveying their local microenvironment. The microglia rapidly change their phenotype in response to any disturbance of nervous system homeostasis and are commonly referred to as activated on the basis of the changes in their morphology or expression of cell surface antigens. A wealth of data now demonstrate that the microglia have very diverse effector functions, in line with macrophage populations in other organs. The term activated microglia needs to be qualified to reflect the distinct and very different states of activation-associated effector functions in different disease states. Manipulating the effector functions of microglia has the potential to modify the outcome of diverse neurological diseases.
We present here both linear regressions and multivariate analyses correlating three global neuropsychological tests with a number of structural and neurochemical measurements performed on a prospective series of 15 patients with Alzheimer's disease and 9 neuropathologically normal subjects. The statistical data show only weak correlations between psychometric indices and plaques and tangles, but the density of neocortical synapses measured by a new immunocytochemical/densitometric technique reveals very powerful correlations with all three psychological assays. Multivariate analysis by stepwise regression produced a model including midfrontal and inferior parietal synapse density, plus inferior parietal plaque counts with a correlation coefficient of 0.96 for Mattis's Dementia Rating Scale. Plaque density contributed only 26% of that strength.
We have examined the distribution of microglia in the normal adult mouse brain using immunocytochemical detection of the macrophage specific plasma membrane glycoprotein F4/80. We were interested to learn whether the distribution of microglia in the adult brain is related to regional variation in the magnitude of cell death during development and resulting monocyte recruitment, or whether the adult distribution is influenced by other local microenvironmental cues. We further investigated the possibility that microglia are sensitive to their microenvironment by studying their morphology in different brain regions.
The most characteristic feature of microglial cells is their rapid activation in response to even minor pathological changes in the CNS. Microglia activation is a key factor in the defence of the neural parenchyma against infectious diseases, inflammation, trauma, ischaemia, brain tumours and neurodegeneration. Microglia activation occurs as a graded response in vivo. The transformation of microglia into potentially cytotoxic cells is under strict control and occurs mainly in response to neuronal or terminal degeneration, or both. Activated microglia are mainly scavenger cells but also perform various other functions in tissue repair and neural regeneration. They form a network of immune alert resident macrophages with a capacity for immune surveillance and control. Activated microglia can destroy invading micro-organisms, remove potentially deleterious debris, promote tissue repair by secreting growth factors and thus facilitate the return to tissue homeostasis. An understanding of intercellular signalling pathways for microglia proliferation and activation could form a rational basis for targeted intervention on glial reactions to injuries in the CNS.
The dynamics of microglial cell activation was studied in freshly prepared rat brain tissue slices. Microglia became activated in the tissue slices, as evidenced by their conversion from a ramified to amoeboid form within several hours in vitro. To define better the cytoarchitectural dynamics underlying microglial activation, we performed direct three-dimensional time-lapse confocal imaging of microglial cells in live brain slices. Microglia in tissue slices were stained with a fluorescent lectin conjugate, FITC-IB(4), and stacks of confocal optical sections through the tissue were collected repeatedly at intervals of 2-5 min for several hours at a time. Morphometric analysis of cells from time-lapse sequences revealed that ramified microglia progress to amoeboid macrophages through a stereotypical sequence of steps. First, in the withdrawal stage, the existing ramified branches of activating microglia do not actively extend or engulf other cells, but instead retract back (mean rate, 0.5-1.5 microm/min) and are completely resorbed into the cell body. Second, in the motility stage, a new set of dynamic protrusions, which can exhibit cycles of rapid extension and retraction (both up to 4 microm/min), abruptly emerges. Sometimes new processes begin to emerge even before the old branches are completely withdrawn. Third, in the locomotory stage, microglia begin translocating within the tissue (up to 118 microm/h) only after the new protrusions emerge. We conclude that the rapid conversion of resting ramified microglia to active amoeboid macrophages is accomplished not by converting quiescent branches to dynamic ones, but rather by replacing existing branches with an entirely new set of highly motile protrusions. This suggests that the ramified branches of resting microglia are normally incapable of rapid morphological dynamics necessary for activated microglial function. More generally, our time-lapse observations identify changes in the dynamic behavior of activating microglia and thereby help define distinct temporal and functional stages of activation for further investigation.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired communication and social interaction and may be accompanied by mental retardation and epilepsy. Its cause remains unknown, despite evidence that genetic, environmental, and immunological factors may play a role in its pathogenesis. To investigate whether immune-mediated mechanisms are involved in the pathogenesis of autism, we used immunocytochemistry, cytokine protein arrays, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays to study brain tissues and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from autistic patients and determined the magnitude of neuroglial and inflammatory reactions and their cytokine expression profiles. Brain tissues from cerebellum, midfrontal, and cingulate gyrus obtained at autopsy from 11 patients with autism were used for morphological studies. Fresh-frozen tissues available from seven patients and CSF from six living autistic patients were used for cytokine protein profiling. We demonstrate an active neuroinflammatory process in the cerebral cortex, white matter, and notably in cerebellum of autistic patients. Immunocytochemical studies showed marked activation of microglia and astroglia, and cytokine profiling indicated that macrophage chemoattractant protein (MCP)–1 and tumor growth factor–β1, derived from neuroglia, were the most prevalent cytokines in brain tissues. CSF showed a unique proinflammatory profile of cytokines, including a marked increase in MCP-1. Our findings indicate that innate neuroimmune reactions play a pathogenic role in an undefined proportion of autistic patients, suggesting that future therapies might involve modifying neuroglial responses in the brain. Ann Neurol 2005
An Erratum has been published for this article in Ann Neurol 57: 304, 2005.
During development, the formation of mature neural circuits requires the selective elimination of inappropriate synaptic connections. Here we show that C1q, the initiating protein in the classical complement cascade, is expressed by postnatal neurons in response to immature astrocytes and is localized to synapses throughout the postnatal CNS and retina. Mice deficient in complement protein C1q or the downstream complement protein C3 exhibit large sustained defects in CNS synapse elimination, as shown by the failure of anatomical refinement of retinogeniculate connections and the retention of excess retinal innervation by lateral geniculate neurons. Neuronal C1q is normally downregulated in the adult CNS; however, in a mouse model of glaucoma, C1q becomes upregulated and synaptically relocalized in the adult retina early in the disease. These findings support a model in which unwanted synapses are tagged by complement for elimination and suggest that complement-mediated synapse elimination may become aberrantly reactivated in neurodegenerative disease.
Both early-life stress and immune system activation in adulthood have been linked independently to depression in a number of studies. However, the relationship between early-life infection, which may be considered a "stressor", and later-life depression has not been explored. We have reported that neonatal bacterial infection in rats leads to exaggerated brain cytokine production, as well as memory impairments, to a subsequent peripheral immune challenge in adulthood, and therefore predicted that stressor-induced depressive-like symptoms would be more severe in these rats as well. Rats treated on postnatal day 4 with PBS or Escherichia coli were as adults exposed to inescapable tailshock stress (IS), and then tested for sucrose preference, social exploration with a juvenile, and overall activity, 1, 3, 5, and 7 days following the stressor. Serum corticosterone and extracellular 5-HT within the basolateral amygdala were measured in a second group of rats in response to the IS. IS resulted in profound depressive-like behaviors in adult rats, but, surprisingly, rats that suffered a bacterial infection early in life had blunted corticosterone responses to the stressor and were remarkably protected from the depressive symptoms compared to controls. These data suggest that early-life infection should be considered within a cost/benefit perspective, in which outcomes in adulthood may be differentially protected or impaired. These data also suggest that the immune system likely plays a previously unsuspected role in "homeostatic" HPA programming and brain development, which may ultimately lend insight into the often-contradictory literature on cytokines, inflammation, and depression.