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Concept: Microglia


Over the past two decades, it has become increasingly apparent that Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology is characterized by activated microglia (brain resident macrophages) as well as the classic features of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The intricacy of microglial biology has also become apparent, leading to a heightened research interest in this particular cell type. Over the years a number of different microglial cell culturing techniques have been developed to study either primary mammalian microglia, or immortalized cell lines. Each microglial system has advantages and disadvantages and should be selected for its appropriateness in a particular research context. This review summarizes several of the most common microglial cell culture systems currently being employed in Alzheimer’s research including primary microglia; BV2 and N9 retroviral immortalized microglia; human immortalized microglia (HMO6); and spontaneously immortalized rodent microglial lines (EOC lines and HAPI cells). Particularities of cell culture requirements and characteristics of microglial behavior, especially in response to applied inflammogen stimuli, are compared and discussed across these cell types.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Cell, Cell biology, Cell culture, Neurology, Beta amyloid, Microglia, Neurofibrillary tangle


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


The chronic effects of repetitive head impacts (RHI) on the development of neuroinflammation and its relationship to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are unknown. Here we set out to determine the relationship between RHI exposure, neuroinflammation, and the development of hyperphosphorylated tau (ptau) pathology and dementia risk in CTE. We studied a cohort of 66 deceased American football athletes from the Boston University-Veteran’s Affairs-Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank as well as 16 non-athlete controls. Subjects with a neurodegenerative disease other than CTE were excluded. Counts of total and activated microglia, astrocytes, and ptau pathology were performed in the dorsolateral frontal cortex (DLF). Binary logistic and simultaneous equation regression models were used to test associations between RHI exposure, microglia, ptau pathology, and dementia. Duration of RHI exposure and the development and severity of CTE were associated with reactive microglial morphology and increased numbers of CD68 immunoreactive microglia in the DLF. A simultaneous equation regression model demonstrated that RHI exposure had a significant direct effect on CD68 cell density (p < 0.0001) and ptau pathology (p < 0.0001) independent of age at death. The effect of RHI on ptau pathology was partially mediated through increased CD68 positive cell density. A binary logistic regression demonstrated that a diagnosis of dementia was significantly predicted by CD68 cell density (OR = 1.010, p = 0.011) independent of age (OR = 1.055, p = 0.007), but this effect disappeared when ptau pathology was included in the model. In conclusion, RHI is associated with chronic activation of microglia, which may partially mediate the effect of RHI on the development of ptau pathology and dementia in CTE. Inflammatory molecules may be important diagnostic or predictive biomarkers as well as promising therapeutic targets in CTE.

Concepts: Regression analysis, Logistic regression, Linear regression, Prediction, Neurology, Frontal lobe, Prediction interval, Microglia


Rett syndrome is an X-linked autism spectrum disorder. The disease is characterized in most cases by mutation of the MECP2 gene, which encodes a methyl-CpG-binding protein. Although MECP2 is expressed in many tissues, the disease is generally attributed to a primary neuronal dysfunction. However, as shown recently, glia, specifically astrocytes, also contribute to Rett pathophysiology. Here we examine the role of another form of glia, microglia, in a murine model of Rett syndrome. Transplantation of wild-type bone marrow into irradiation-conditioned Mecp2-null hosts resulted in engraftment of brain parenchyma by bone-marrow-derived myeloid cells of microglial phenotype, and arrest of disease development. However, when cranial irradiation was blocked by lead shield, and microglial engraftment was prevented, disease was not arrested. Similarly, targeted expression of MECP2 in myeloid cells, driven by Lysm(cre) on an Mecp2-null background, markedly attenuated disease symptoms. Thus, through multiple approaches, wild-type Mecp2-expressing microglia within the context of an Mecp2-null male mouse arrested numerous facets of disease pathology: lifespan was increased, breathing patterns were normalized, apnoeas were reduced, body weight was increased to near that of wild type, and locomotor activity was improved. Mecp2(+/-) females also showed significant improvements as a result of wild-type microglial engraftment. These benefits mediated by wild-type microglia, however, were diminished when phagocytic activity was inhibited pharmacologically by using annexin V to block phosphatydilserine residues on apoptotic targets, thus preventing recognition and engulfment by tissue-resident phagocytes. These results suggest the importance of microglial phagocytic activity in Rett syndrome. Our data implicate microglia as major players in the pathophysiology of this devastating disorder, and suggest that bone marrow transplantation might offer a feasible therapeutic approach for it.

Concepts: Gene, Cancer, Phagocytosis, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, Autism spectrum, Microglia


ZIKA virus (ZIKV) is an emerging pathogen responsible for neurological disorders and congenital microcephaly. However, the molecular basis for ZIKV neurotropism remains poorly understood. Here, we show that Axl is expressed in human microglia and astrocytes in the developing brain and that it mediates ZIKV infection of glial cells. Axl-mediated ZIKV entry requires the Axl ligand Gas6, which bridges ZIKV particles to glial cells. Following binding, ZIKV is internalized through clathrin-mediated endocytosis and traffics to Rab5+ endosomes to establish productive infection. During entry, the ZIKV/Gas6 complex activates Axl kinase activity, which downmodulates interferon signaling and facilitates infection. ZIKV infection of human glial cells is inhibited by MYD1, an engineered Axl decoy receptor, and by the Axl kinase inhibitor R428. Our results highlight the dual role of Axl during ZIKV infection of glial cells: promoting viral entry and modulating innate immune responses. Therefore, inhibiting Axl function may represent a potential target for future antiviral therapies.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Virus, Vaccination, Innate immune system, Glial cell, Endocytosis, Microglia


Activated microglia and infiltrating lymphocytes are neuropathological hallmarks of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal motoneuron disease. Although both cell types play pivotal roles in the ALS pathogenic process, the interactions between microglia and lymphocytes, specifically regulatory CD4+CD25High T lymphocytes (Tregs) and cytotoxic CD4+CD25- T lymphocytes (Teffs), have not been addressed. When co-cultured with mSOD1 adult microglia, mSOD1 Tregs suppressed the cytotoxic microglial factors NOX2 and iNOS through an IL-4-mediated mechanism, whereas Teffs were only minimally effective; IL-4 inhibitory antibodies blocked the suppressive function of mSOD1 Tregs, and conditioned media from mSOD1 Tregs or the addition of IL-4 reduced microglial NOX2 expression. During the stable disease phase, the total number of Tregs, specifically the numbers of CD4+CD25HighIL-4+, CD4+CD25HighIL-10+ and CD4+CD25HighTGF-β+ Tregs, were increased in ALS mice compared with WT mice; Tregs isolated during this phase reduced Teff proliferation. In contrast, during the rapidly progressing phase, the number of mSOD1 Tregs decreased while the proliferation of mSOD1 Teffs increased. The combination of IL-4, IL-10, and TGF-β was required to inhibit the proliferation of mSOD1 Teffs by mSOD1 Tregs that were isolated during the slow phase, while inhibition of mSOD1 Teffs by mSOD1 Tregs during the rapid phase, as well as WT Teffs, was not dependent on these factors. Thus, mSOD1 Tregs at the slow phase suppressed microglial toxicity and SOD1 Teff proliferation through different mechanisms; microglial activation was suppressed through IL-4 whereas mSOD1 Teffs were suppressed by IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β. These data suggest that mSOD1 Tregs contribute to the slowly progressing phase in ALS mice and may offer a novel therapeutic option for ALS patients.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Superoxide dismutase, Natural killer cell, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Microglia, SOD1, Minocycline


Microglia play key roles in brain development, homeostasis, and function, and it is widely assumed that the adult population is long lived and maintained by self-renewal. However, the precise temporal and spatial dynamics of the microglial population are unknown. We show in mice and humans that the turnover of microglia is remarkably fast, allowing the whole population to be renewed several times during a lifetime. The number of microglial cells remains steady from late postnatal stages until aging and is maintained by the spatial and temporal coupling of proliferation and apoptosis, as shown by pulse-chase studies, chronic in vivo imaging of microglia, and the use of mouse models of dysregulated apoptosis. Our results reveal that the microglial population is constantly and rapidly remodeled, expanding our understanding of its role in the maintenance of brain homeostasis.

Concepts: Nervous system, Developmental biology, Systems theory, Mouse, Mice, Microglia, Homeostasis, A Lifetime


Microglial cells are the prime effectors in immune and inflammatory responses of the central nervous system (CNS). During pathological conditions, the activation of these cells helps restore CNS homeostasis. However, chronic microglial activation endangers neuronal survival through the release of various proinflammatory molecules and neurotoxins. Thus, negative regulators of microglial activation have been considered as potential therapeutic candidates to target neurodegeneration, such as that in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The rhizome of Ligusticum chuanxiong Hort. (Ligusticum wallichii Franch) has been widely used for the treatment of vascular diseases in traditional oriental medicine. Butylidenephthalide (BP), a major bioactive component from L. chuanxiong, has been reported to have a variety of pharmacological activities, including vasorelaxant, anti-anginal, anti-platelet and anti-cancer effects. The aim of this study was to examine whether BP represses microglial activation. In rat brain microglia, BP significantly inhibited the lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced production of nitric oxide (NO), tumour necrosis factor-α and interleukin-1β. In organotypic hippocampal slice cultures, BP clearly blocked the effect of LPS on hippocampal cell death and inhibited LPS-induced NO production in culture medium. These results newly suggest that BP provide neuroprotection by reducing the release of various proinflammatory molecules from activated microglia. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Inflammation, Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Neurology, Microglia, Ligusticum wallichii, Ligusticum


Hypoxia has been shown to promote inflammation, including the release of proinflammatory cytokines, but it is poorly investigated how hypoxia directly affects inflammasome signaling pathways. To explore whether hypoxic stress modulates inflammasome activity, we examined the effect of cobalt chloride (CoCl2)-induced hypoxia on caspase-1 activation in primary mixed glial cultures of the neonatal mouse brain. Unexpectedly, hypoxia induced by oxygen-glucose deprivation or CoCl2 treatment failed to activate caspase-1 in microglial BV-2 cells and primary mixed glial cultures. Of particular interest, CoCl2-induced hypoxic condition considerably inhibited NLRP3-dependent caspase-1 activation in mixed glial cells, but not in bone marrow-derived macrophages. CoCl2-mediated inhibition of NLRP3 inflammasome activity was also observed in the isolated brain microglial cells, but CoCl2 did not affect poly dA:dT-triggered AIM2 inflammasome activity in mixed glial cells. Our results collectively demonstrate that CoCl2-induced hypoxia may negatively regulate NLRP3 inflammasome signaling in brain glial cells, but its physiological significance remains to be determined.

Concepts: Immune system, Neuron, Atherosclerosis, Effect, Affect, Glial cell, Glial cells, Microglia