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Concept: Glial cell


We previously reported that autosomal recessive demyelinating Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) type 4B1 neuropathy with myelin outfoldings is caused by loss of MTMR2 (Myotubularin-related 2) in humans, and we created a faithful mouse model of the disease. MTMR2 dephosphorylates both PtdIns3P and PtdIns(3,5)P(2), thereby regulating membrane trafficking. However, the function of MTMR2 and the role of the MTMR2 phospholipid phosphatase activity in vivo in the nerve still remain to be assessed. Mutations in FIG4 are associated with CMT4J neuropathy characterized by both axonal and myelin damage in peripheral nerve. Loss of Fig4 function in the plt (pale tremor) mouse produces spongiform degeneration of the brain and peripheral neuropathy. Since FIG4 has a role in generation of PtdIns(3,5)P(2) and MTMR2 catalyzes its dephosphorylation, these two phosphatases might be expected to have opposite effects in the control of PtdIns(3,5)P(2) homeostasis and their mutations might have compensatory effects in vivo. To explore the role of the MTMR2 phospholipid phosphatase activity in vivo, we generated and characterized the Mtmr2/Fig4 double null mutant mice. Here we provide strong evidence that Mtmr2 and Fig4 functionally interact in both Schwann cells and neurons, and we reveal for the first time a role of Mtmr2 in neurons in vivo. Our results also suggest that imbalance of PtdIns(3,5)P(2) is at the basis of altered longitudinal myelin growth and of myelin outfolding formation. Reduction of Fig4 by null heterozygosity and downregulation of PIKfyve both rescue Mtmr2-null myelin outfoldings in vivo and in vitro.

Concepts: Nervous system, Action potential, Axon, Myelin, Oligodendrocyte, Glial cell, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, Schwann cell


Following the initial acute stage of spinal cord injury, a cascade of cellular and inflammatory responses will lead to progressive secondary damage of the nerve tissue surrounding the primary injury site. The degeneration is manifested by loss of neurons and glial cells, demyelination and cyst formation. Injury to the mammalian spinal cord results in nearly complete failure of the severed axons to regenerate. We have previously demonstrated that the antioxidants N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) can attenuate retrograde neuronal degeneration after peripheral nerve and ventral root injury. The present study evaluates the effects of NAC and ALC on neuronal survival, axonal sprouting and glial cell reactions after spinal cord injury in adult rats. Tibial motoneurons in the spinal cord were pre-labeled with fluorescent tracer Fast Blue one week before lumbar L5 hemisection. Continuous intrathecal infusion of NAC (2.4 mg/day) or ALC (0.9 mg/day) was initiated immediately after spinal injury using Alzet 2002 osmotic minipumps. Neuroprotective effects of treatment were assessed by counting surviving motoneurons and by using quantitative immunohistochemistry and Western blotting for neuronal and glial cell markers 4 weeks after hemisection. Spinal cord injury induced significant loss of tibial motoneurons in L4-L6 segments. Neuronal degeneration was associated with decreased immunostaining for microtubular-associated protein-2 (MAP2) in dendritic branches, synaptophysin in presynaptic boutons and neurofilaments in nerve fibers. Immunostaining for the astroglial marker GFAP and microglial marker OX42 was increased. Treatment with NAC and ALC rescued approximately half of the motoneurons destined to die. In addition, antioxidants restored MAP2 and synaptophysin immunoreactivity. However, the perineuronal synaptophysin labeling was not recovered. Although both treatments promoted axonal sprouting, there was no effect on reactive astrocytes. In contrast, the microglial reaction was significantly attenuated. The results indicate a therapeutic potential for NAC and ALC in the early treatment of traumatic spinal cord injury.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Action potential, Axon, Synapse, Myelin, Glial cell


Mutations in SOD1 cause hereditary variants of the fatal motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Pathophysiology of the disease is non-cell-autonomous, with toxicity deriving also from glia. In particular, microglia contribute to disease progression. Methylene blue (MB) inhibits the effect of nitric oxide, which mediates microglial responses to injury. In vivo 2P-LSM imaging was performed in ALS-linked transgenic SOD1(G93A) mice to investigate the effect of MB on microglia-mediated inflammation in the spinal cord. Local superfusion of the lateral spinal cord with MB inhibited the microglial reaction directed at a laser-induced axon transection in control and SOD1(G93A) mice. In vitro, MB at high concentrations inhibited cytokine and chemokine release from microglia of control and advanced clinical SOD1(G93A) mice. Systemic MB-treatment of SOD1(G93A) mice at early preclinical stages significantly delayed disease onset and motor dysfunction. However, an increase of MB dose had no additional effect on disease progression; this was unexpected in view of the local anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, in vivo imaging of systemically MB-treated mice also showed no alterations of microglia activity in response to local lesions. Thus although systemic MB treatment had no effect on microgliosis, instead, its use revealed an important influence on motor neuron survival as indicated by an increased number of lumbar anterior horn neurons present at the time of disease onset. Thus, potentially beneficial effects of locally applied MB on inflammatory events contributing to disease progression could not be reproduced in SOD1(G93A) mice via systemic administration, whereas systemic MB application delayed disease onset via neuroprotection.

Concepts: Inflammation, Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Anti-inflammatory, Glial cell, Motor neuron


Neuron-microglia co-cultures treated with pro-inflammatory agents are a useful tool to study neuroinflammation in vitro, where to test the potential neuroprotective effect of anti-inflammatory compounds. However, a great diversity of experimental conditions can be found in the literature, making difficult to select the working conditions when considering this approach for the first time. We compared the use of neuron-primary microglia and neuron-BV2 cells (a microglial cell line) co-cultures, using different neuron:microglia ratios, treatments and time post-treatment to induce glial activation and derived neurotoxicity. We show that each model requires different experimental conditions, but that both neuron-BV2 and neuron-primary microglia LPS/IFN-γ-treated co-cultures are good to study the potential neuroprotective effect of anti-inflammatory agents. The contribution of different pro-inflammatory parameters in the neurotoxicity induced by reactive microglial cells was determined. IL-10 pre-treatment completely inhibited LPS/IFN-γ-induced TNF-α and IL-6 release, and COX-2 expression both in BV2 and primary microglial cultures, but not NO production and iNOS expression. However, LPS/IFN-γ induced neurotoxicity was not inhibited in IL-10 pre-treated co-cultures. The inhibition of NO production using the specific iNOS inhibitor 1400 W totally abolished the neurotoxic effect of LPS/IFN-γ, suggesting a major role for NO in the neurotoxic effect of activated microglia. Consequently, among the anti-inflammatory agents, special attention should be paid to compounds that inhibit NO production.

Concepts: Enzyme inhibitor, Inhibitor, Glial cell, Glial cells, Microglia


Methamphetamine is a drug of abuse that can cause neurotoxic damage in humans and animals. Modafinil, a wake-promoting compound approved for the treatment of sleeping disorders, is being prescribed off label for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence. The aim of the present study was to investigate if modafinil could counteract methamphetamine-induced neuroinflammatory processes, which occur in conjunction with degeneration of dopaminergic terminals in the mouse striatum. We evaluated the effect of a toxic methamphetamine binge in female C57BL/6 mice (4×5 mg/kg, i.p., 2 h apart) and modafinil co-administration (2×90 mg/kg, i.p., 1 h before the first and fourth methamphetamine injections) on glial cells (microglia and astroglia). We also evaluated the striatal expression of the pro-apoptotic BAX and anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins, which are known to mediate methamphetamine-induced apoptotic effects. Modafinil by itself did not cause reactive gliosis and counteracted methamphetamine-induced microglial and astroglial activation. Modafinil also counteracted the decrease in tyrosine hydroxylase and dopamine transporter levels and prevented methamphetamine-induced increases in the pro-apoptotic BAX and decreases in the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein expression. Our results indicate that modafinil can interfere with methamphetamine actions and provide protection against dopamine toxicity, cell death, and neuroinflammation in the mouse striatum.

Concepts: Gene, Apoptosis, Glial cell, Caspase, Dopamine, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Microglia


Studying the function and malfunction of genes and proteins associated with inherited forms of peripheral neuropathies has provided multiple clues to our understanding of myelinated nerves in health and disease. Here, we have generated a mouse model for the peripheral neuropathy Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 4H by constitutively disrupting the mouse orthologue of the suspected culprit gene FGD4 that encodes the small RhoGTPase Cdc42-guanine nucleotide exchange factor Frabin. Lack of Frabin/Fgd4 causes dysmyelination in mice in early peripheral nerve development, followed by profound myelin abnormalities and demyelination at later stages. At the age of 60 weeks, this was accompanied by electrophysiological deficits. By crossing mice carrying alleles of Frabin/Fgd4 flanked by loxP sequences with animals expressing Cre recombinase in a cell type-specific manner, we show that Schwann cell-autonomous Frabin/Fgd4 function is essential for proper myelination without detectable primary contributions from neurons. Deletion of Frabin/Fgd4 in Schwann cells of fully myelinated nerve fibres revealed that this protein is not only required for correct nerve development but also for accurate myelin maintenance. Moreover, we established that correct activation of Cdc42 is dependent on Frabin/Fgd4 function in healthy peripheral nerves. Genetic disruption of Cdc42 in Schwann cells of adult myelinated nerves resulted in myelin alterations similar to those observed in Frabin/Fgd4-deficient mice, indicating that Cdc42 and the Frabin/Fgd4-Cdc42 axis are critical for myelin homeostasis. In line with known regulatory roles of Cdc42, we found that Frabin/Fgd4 regulates Schwann cell endocytosis, a process that is increasingly recognized as a relevant mechanism in peripheral nerve pathophysiology. Taken together, our results indicate that regulation of Cdc42 by Frabin/Fgd4 in Schwann cells is critical for the structure and function of the peripheral nervous system. In particular, this regulatory link is continuously required in adult fully myelinated nerve fibres. Thus, mechanisms regulated by Frabin/Fgd4-Cdc42 are promising targets that can help to identify additional regulators of myelin development and homeostasis, which may crucially contribute also to malfunctions in different types of peripheral neuropathies.

Concepts: Nervous system, Gene, Action potential, Axon, Myelin, Glial cell, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, Schwann cell


Toxoplasmic retinochoroiditis is a common blinding retinal infection caused by the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Basic processes relating to establishment of infection in the human eye by T. gondii tachyzoites have not been investigated. To evaluate the ability of tachyzoites to navigate the human retina, we developed an ex vivo assay, in which a suspension containing 1.5×10(7) parasites replaced vitreous in a posterior eyecup. After 8 hours, the retina was formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded, and sections were immunostained to identify tachyzoites. To determine the preference of tachyzoites for human retinal neuronal versus glial populations, we infected dissociated retinal cultures, subsequently characterized by neuron-specific enolase or glial fibrillary acidic protein expression, and retinal cell lines, with YFP-expressing tachyzoites. In migration assays, retinas contained 110-250 live tachyzoites; 64.5-95.2% (mean  = 79.6%) were localized to the nerve fiber layer, but some were detected in the outer retina. Epifluorescence imaging of dissociated retinal cultures 24 hours after infection indicated preferential infection of glia. This observation was confirmed in growth assays, with significantly higher (p≤0.005) numbers of tachyzoites measured in glial verus neuronal cell lines. Our translational studies indicate that, after entering retina, tachyzoites may navigate multiple tissue layers. Tachyzoites preferentially infect glial cells, which exist throughout the retina. These properties may contribute to the success of T. gondii as a human pathogen.

Concepts: Neuron, Apicomplexa, Retina, Eye, Myelin, Glial cell, Toxoplasmosis, Toxoplasma gondii


Almost 47 million people suffer from dementia worldwide, with an estimated new case diagnosed every 3.2 seconds. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) accounts for approximately 60%-80% of all dementia cases. Given this evidence, it is clear dementia represents one of the greatest global public health challenges. Currently used drugs alleviate the symptoms of AD but do not treat the underlying causes of dementia. Hence, a worldwide quest is under way to find new treatments to stop, slow, or even prevent AD. Besides the classic targets of the oldest therapies, represented by cholinergic and glutamatergic systems, β-amyloid (Aβ) plaques, and tau tangles, new therapeutic approaches have other targets. One of the newest and most promising strategies is the control of reactive gliosis, a multicellular response to brain injury. This phenomenon occurs as a consequence of a persistent glial activation, which leads to cellular dysfunctions and neuroinflammation. Reactive gliosis is now considered a key abnormality in the AD brain. It has been demonstrated that reactive astrocytes surround both Aβ plaques and tau tangles. In this condition, glial cells lose some of their homeostatic functions and acquire a proinflammatory phenotype amplifying neuronal damage. So, molecules that are able to restore their physiological functions and control the neuroinflammatory process offer new therapeutic opportunities for this devastating disease. In this review, we describe the role of neuroinflammation in the AD pathogenesis and progression and then provide an overview of the recent research with the aim of developing new therapies to treat this disorder.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Nervous system, Medicine, Neuron, Neurology, Dementia, Glial cell, Gliosis


Multiple hypothalamic neuronal populations that regulate energy balance have been identified. Although hypothalamic glia exist in abundance and form intimate structural connections with neurons, their roles in energy homeostasis are less known. Here we show that selective Ca(2+) activation of glia in the mouse arcuate nucleus (ARC) reversibly induces increased food intake while disruption of Ca(2+) signaling pathway in ARC glia reduces food intake. The specific activation of ARC glia enhances the activity of agouti-related protein/neuropeptide Y (AgRP/NPY)-expressing neurons but induces no net response in pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-expressing neurons. ARC glial activation non-specifically depolarizes both AgRP/NPY and POMC neurons but a strong inhibitory input to POMC neurons balances the excitation. When AgRP/NPY neurons are inactivated, ARC glial activation fails to evoke any significant changes in food intake. Collectively, these results reveal an important role of ARC glia in the regulation of energy homeostasis through its interaction with distinct neuronal subtype-specific pathways.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Hypothalamus, Neuroendocrinology, Glial cell, Dopamine


The rapid spread of Zika virus (ZIKV) and its association with abnormal brain development constitute a global health emergency. Congenital ZIKV infection produces a range of mild to severe pathologies, including microcephaly. To understand the pathophysiology of ZIKV infection, we used models of the developing brain that faithfully recapitulate the tissue architecture in early to midgestation. We identify the brain cell populations that are most susceptible to ZIKV infection in primary human tissue, provide evidence for a mechanism of viral entry, and show that a commonly used antibiotic protects cultured brain cells by reducing viral proliferation. In the brain, ZIKV preferentially infected neural stem cells, astrocytes, oligodendrocyte precursor cells, and microglia, whereas neurons were less susceptible to infection. These findings suggest mechanisms for microcephaly and other pathologic features of infants with congenital ZIKV infection that are not explained by neural stem cell infection alone, such as calcifications in the cortical plate. Furthermore, we find that blocking the glia-enriched putative viral entry receptor AXL reduced ZIKV infection of astrocytes in vitro, and genetic knockdown of AXL in a glial cell line nearly abolished infection. Finally, we evaluate 2,177 compounds, focusing on drugs safe in pregnancy. We show that the macrolide antibiotic azithromycin reduced viral proliferation and virus-induced cytopathic effects in glial cell lines and human astrocytes. Our characterization of infection in the developing human brain clarifies the pathogenesis of congenital ZIKV infection and provides the basis for investigating possible therapeutic strategies to safely alleviate or prevent the most severe consequences of the epidemic.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Stem cell, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Neurogenesis, Glial cell