Microglia are the resident macrophage population of the central nervous system (CNS). Adequate microglial function is crucial for a healthy CNS. Microglia are not only the first immune sentinels of infection, contributing to both innate and adaptive immune responses locally, but are also involved in the maintenance of brain homeostasis. Emerging data are showing new and fundamental roles for microglia in the control of neuronal proliferation and differentiation, as well as in the formation of synaptic connections. While microglia have been studied for decades, a long history of experimental misinterpretation meant that their true origins remained debated. However, recent studies on microglial origin indicate that these cells in fact arise early during development from progenitors in the embryonic yolk sac (YS) that seed the brain rudiment and, remarkably, appear to persist there into adulthood. Here, we review the history of microglial cells and discuss the latest advances in our understanding of their origin, differentiation, and homeostasis, which provides new insights into their roles in health and disease.
Microglia are the resident brain macrophages and they have been traditionally studied as orchestrators of the brain inflammatory response during infections and disease. In addition, microglia has a more benign, less explored role as the brain professional phagocytes. Phagocytosis is a term coined from the Greek to describe the receptor-mediated engulfment and degradation of dead cells and microbes. In addition, microglia phagocytoses brain-specific cargo, such as axonal and myelin debris in spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis, amyloid-beta deposits in Alzheimer's disease, and supernumerary synapses in postnatal development. Common mechanisms of recognition, engulfment, and degradation of the different types of cargo are assumed, but very little is known about the shared and specific molecules involved in the phagocytosis of each target by microglia. More importantly, the functional consequences of microglial phagocytosis remain largely unexplored. Overall, phagocytosis is considered a beneficial phenomenon, since it eliminates dead cells and induces an anti-inflammatory response. However, phagocytosis can also activate the respiratory burst, which produces toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS). Phagocytosis has been traditionally studied in pathological conditions, leading to the assumption that microglia have to be activated inorder to become efficient phagocytes. Recent data, however, has shown that unchallenged microglia phagocytose apoptotic cells during development and in adult neurogenic niches, suggesting an overlooked role in brain remodeling throughout the normal lifespan. The present review will summarize the current state of the literature regarding the role of microglial phagocytosis in maintaining tissue homeostasis in health as in disease.
It is well established that microglial form and function are inextricably linked. In recent years, the traditional view that microglial form ranges between "ramified resting" and "activated amoeboid" has been emphasized through advancing imaging techniques that point to microglial form being highly dynamic even within the currently accepted morphological categories. Moreover, microglia adopt meaningful intermediate forms between categories, with considerable crossover in function and varying morphologies as they cycle, migrate, wave, phagocytose, and extend and retract fine and gross processes. From a quantitative perspective, it is problematic to measure such variability using traditional methods, but one way of quantitating such detail is through fractal analysis. The techniques of fractal analysis have been used for quantitating microglial morphology, to categorize gross differences but also to differentiate subtle differences (e.g., amongst ramified cells). Multifractal analysis in particular is one technique of fractal analysis that may be useful for identifying intermediate forms. Here we review current trends and methods of fractal analysis, focusing on box counting analysis, including lacunarity and multifractal analysis, as applied to microglial morphology.
Functional macrophage heterogeneity is recognized outside the central nervous system (CNS), where alternatively activated macrophages can perform immune-resolving functions. Such functional heterogeneity was largely ignored in the CNS, with respect to the resident microglia and the myeloid-derived cells recruited from the blood following injury or disease, previously defined as blood-derived microglia; both were indistinguishably perceived detrimental. Our studies have led us to view the myeloid-derived infiltrating cells as functionally distinct from the resident microglia, and accordingly, to name them monocyte-derived macrophages (mo-M Phi). Although microglia perform various maintenance and protective roles, under certain conditions when they can no longer provide protection, mo-M Phi are recruited to the damaged CNS; there, they act not as microglial replacements but rather assistant cells, providing activities that cannot be timely performed by the resident cells. Here, we focus on the functional heterogeneity of microglia/mo-M Phi, emphasizing that, as opposed to the mo-M Phi, microglia often fail to timely acquire the phenotype essential for CNS repair.
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, CX(3)CR1, 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.
Microglial cells in brain and spinal cord are characterized by high expression of the chemokine receptor CX(3)CR1. Expression of the sole CX(3)CR1 ligand, the membrane-tethered and sheddable chemokine CX(3)CL1/fractalkine, is restricted in the brain parenchyma to selected neurons. Here we summarize our current understanding of the physiological role of CX(3)CR1 for microglia function and the CX3C axis in microglial/neuronal crosstalk in homeostasis and under challenge. Moreover, we will discuss the efforts of our laboratory and others to exploit CX(3)CR1 promoter activity for the visualization and genetic manipulation of microglia to probe their functional contributions in the central nerve system (CNS) context.
Dynamic adjustments to neuronal energy supply in response to synaptic activity are critical for neuronal function. Glial cells known as astrocytes have processes that ensheath most central synapses and express G-protein-coupled neurotransmitter receptor sand transporters that respond to neuronal activity. Astrocytes also release substrates for neuronal oxidative phosphorylation and have processes that terminate on the surface of brain arterioles and can influence vascular smooth muscle tone and local blood flow. Membrane receptor or transporter-mediated effects of glutamate represent a convergence point of astrocyte influence on neuronal bioenergetics. Astrocytic glutamate uptake drives glycolysis and subsequent shuttling of lactate from astrocytes to neurons for oxidative metabolism. Astrocytes also convert synaptically reclaimed glutamate to glutamine, which is returned to neurons for glutamate salvage or oxidation. Finally, astrocytes store brain energy currency in the form of glycogen, which can be mobilized to produce lactate for neuronal oxidative phosphorylation in response to glutamate rgicneuro transmission. These mechanisms couple synaptically driven astrocytic responses to glutamate with release of energy substrates back to neuron stomatch demand with supply. In addition, astrocytes directly influence thet one of penetrating brain arterioles in response to glutamatergic neuro transmission, coordinating dynamic regulation of local blood flow. We will describe the role of a strocytes in neurometabolic and neurovascular coupling in detail and discuss, in turn, how astrocyte dysfunction may contribute to neuronal bioenergetic deficit and neurodegeneration. Understanding the role of astrocytes as a hub for neurometabolic and neurovascular coupling mechanisms is a critical under pinning for the rapeutic development in a broad range of neuro degenerative disorders characterized by chronic generalized brain is chemia and brain microvascular dysfunction.
Microglial cells in brain and spinal cord are characterized by high expression of the chemokine receptor CX3CR1. Expression of the sole CX3CR1 ligand, the membrane-tethered and sheddable chemokine CX3CL1/fractalkine, is restricted in the brain parenchyma to selected neurons. Here we summarize our current understanding of the physiological role of CX3CR1 for microglia function and the CX3C axis in microglial/neuronal crosstalk in homeostasis and under challenge. Moreover, we will discuss the efforts of our laboratory and others to exploit CX3CR1 promoter activity for the visualization and genetic manipulation of microglia to probe their functional contributions in the central nerve system (CNS) context.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), share two characteristics in common: (1) a disease prevalence that increases markedly with advancing age, and (2) neuroinflammatory changes in which microglia, the primary resident immune cell of the CNS, feature prominently. These characteristics have led to the hypothesis that pathogenic mechanisms underlying age-related neurodegenerative disease involve aging changes in microglia. If correct, targeting features of microglial senescence may constitute a feasible therapeutic strategy. This review explores this hypothesis and its implications by considering the current knowledge on how microglia undergo change during aging and how the emergence of these aging phenotypes relate to significant alterations in microglial function. Evidence and theories on cellular mechanisms implicated in driving senescence in microglia are reviewed, as are rejuvenative measures and strategies that aim to reverse or ameliorate the aging microglial phenotype. Understanding and controlling microglial aging may represent an opportunity for elucidating disease mechanisms and for formulating novel therapies.
Schizophrenia is a disabling mental illness that is now recognized as a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is likely that genetic risk factors interact with environmental perturbations to affect normal brain development and that this altered trajectory results in a combination of positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. Although the exact pathophysiology of schizophrenia is unknown, the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR), a major glutamate receptor subtype, has received great attention. Proper expression and regulation of NMDARs in the brain is critical for learning and memory processes as well as cortical plasticity and maturation. Evidence from both animal models and human studies implicates a dysfunction of NMDARs both in disease progression and symptoms of schizophrenia. Furthermore, mutations in many of the known genetic risk factors for schizophrenia suggest that NMDAR hypofunction is a convergence point for schizophrenia. In this review, we discuss how disrupted NMDAR function leads to altered neurodevelopment that may contribute to the progression and development of symptoms for schizophrenia, particularly cognitive deficits. We review the shared signaling pathways among the schizophrenia susceptibility genes DISC1, neuregulin1, and dysbindin, focusing on the AKT/GSK3 beta pathway, and how their mutations and interactions can lead to NMDAR dysfunction during development. Additionally, we explore what open questions remain and suggest where schizophrenia research needs to move in order to provide mechanistic insight into the cause of NMDAR dysfunction, as well as generate possible new avenues for therapeutic intervention.
The schizophrenia brain is differentiated from the normal brain by subtle changes, with significant overlap in measures between normal and disease states. For the past 25 years, schizophrenia has increasingly been considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. This frame of reference challenges biological researchers to consider how pathological changes identified in adult brain tissue can be accounted for by aberrant developmental processes occurring during fetal, childhood, or adolescent periods. To place schizophrenia neuropathology in a neurodevelopmental context requires solid, scrutinized evidence of changes occurring during normal development of the human brain, particularly in the cortex; however, too often data on normative developmental change are selectively referenced. This paper focuses on the development of the prefrontal cortex and charts major molecular, cellular, and behavioral events on a similar time line. We first consider the time at which human cognitive abilities such as selective attention, working memory, and inhibitory control mature, emphasizing that attainment of full adult potential is a process requiring decades. We review the timing of neurogenesis, neuronal migration, white matter changes (myelination), and synapse development. We consider how molecular changes in neurotransmitter signaling pathways are altered throughout life and how they may be concomitant with cellular and cognitive changes. We end with a consideration of how the response to drugs of abuse changes with age. We conclude that the concepts around the timing of cortical neuronal migration, interneuron maturation, and synaptic regression in humans may need revision and include greater emphasis on the protracted and dynamic changes occurring in adolescence. Updating our current understanding of post-natal neurodevelopment should aid researchers in interpreting gray matter changes and derailed neurodevelopmental processes that could underlie emergence of psychosis.
The Wnt signaling pathway plays a role in the development of the central nervous system and growing evidence indicates that Wnts also regulates the structure and function of the adult nervous system. Wnt components are key regulators of a variety of developmental processes, including embryonic patterning, cell specification, and cell polarity. In the nervous system, Wnt signaling also regulates the formation and function of neuronal circuits by controlling neuronal differentiation, axon outgrowth and guidance, dendrite development, synaptic function, and neuronal plasticity. Wnt factors can signal through three very well characterized cascades: canonical or beta-catenin pathway, planar cell polarity pathway and calcium pathway that control different processes. However, divergent downstream cascades have been identified to control neuronal morphogenesis. In the nervous system, the expression of Wnt proteins is a highly controlled process. In addition, deregulation of Wnt signaling has been associated with neurodegenerative diseases. Here, we will review different aspects of neuronal and dendrite maturation, including spinogenesis and synaptogenesis. Finally, the role of Wnt pathway components on Alzheimers disease will be revised.
Microglia serve in the surveillance and maintenance, protection and restoration of the central nervous system (CNS) homeostasis. By their parenchymal location they differ from other CNS-associated myeloid cells, and by origin as well as functional characteristics they are also-at least in part-distinct from extraneural tissue macrophages. Nevertheless, microglia themselves may not comprise a uniform cell type. CNS regions vary by cellular and chemical composition, including white matter (myelin) content, blood-brain barrier properties or prevailing neurotransmitters. Such a micromilieu could instruct as well as require local adaptions of microglial features. Yet even cells within circumscribed populations may reveal some specialization by subtypes, regarding house-keeping duties and functional capacities upon challenges. While diversity of reactive phenotypes has been established still little is known as to whether all activated cells would respond with the same program of induced genes and functions or whether responder subsets have individual contributions. Preferential synthesis of a key cytokine could asign a master control to certain cells among a pool of activated microglia. Critical functions could be sequestered to discrete microglial subtypes in order to avoid interference, such as clearance of endogenous material and presentation of antigens. Indeed, several and especially a number of recent studies provide evidence for the constitutive and reactive heterogeneity of microglia by and within CNS regions. While such a principle of "division of labor" would influence the basic notion of "the" microglia, it could come with the practival value of addressing separate microglia types in experimental and therapeutic manipulations.
In the adult brain new neurons are continuously generated mainly in two regions, the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the lateral ventricles and the subgranular zone (SGZ) in the hippocampal dentate gyrus. In the SGZ, radial neural stem cells (NSCs) give rise to granule cells that integrate into the hippocampal circuitry and are relevant for the plasticity of the hippocampus. Loss of neurogenesis impairs learning and memory, suggesting that this process is important for adult hippocampal function. Adult neurogenesis is tightly regulated by multiple signaling pathways, including the canonical Wnt/beta-catenin pathway. This pathway plays important roles during the development of neuronal circuits and in the adult brain it modulates synaptic transmission and plasticity. Here, we review current knowledge on the regulation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis by the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling cascade and the potential mechanisms involved in this regulation. Also we discuss the evidence supporting that the canonical Wnt pathway is part of the signaling mechanism involved in the regulation of neurogenesis in different physiological conditions. Finally, some unsolved questions regarding the Wnt-mediated regulation of neurogenesis are discussed.
Neural stem/precursor cells in the adult brain reside in the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the lateral ventricles and the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus. These cells primarily generate neuroblasts that normally migrate to the olfactory bulb (OB) and the dentate granule cell layer respectively. Following brain damage, such as traumatic brain injury, ischemic stroke or in degenerative disease models, neural precursor cells from the SVZ in particular, can migrate from their normal route along the rostral migratory stream (RMS) to the site of neural damage. This neural precursor cell response to neural damage is mediated by release of endogenous factors, including cytokines and chemokines produced by the inflammatory response at the injury site, and by the production of growth and neurotrophic factors. Endogenous hippocampal neurogenesis is frequently also directly or indirectly affected by neural damage. Administration of a variety of factors that regulate different aspects of neural stem/precursor biology often leads to improved functional motor and/or behavioral outcomes. Such factors can target neural stem/precursor proliferation, survival, migration and differentiation into appropriate neuronal or glial lineages. Newborn cells also need to subsequently survive and functionally integrate into extant neural circuitry, which may be the major bottleneck to the current therapeutic potential of neural stem/precursor cells. This review will cover the effects of a range of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate neural stem/precursor cell functions. In particular it focuses on factors that may be harnessed to enhance the endogenous neural stem/precursor cell response to neural damage, highlighting those that have already shown evidence of preclinical effectiveness and discussing others that warrant further preclinical investigation.
Microglial cells are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system. In the resting state, microglia are highly dynamic and control the environment by rapidly extending and retracting motile processes. Microglia are closely associated with astrocytes and neurons, particularly at the synapses, and more recent data indicate that neurotransmission plays a role in regulating the morphology and function of surveying/resting microglia, as they are endowed with receptors for most known neurotransmitters. In particular, microglia express receptors for ATP and glutamate, which regulate microglial motility. After local damage, the release of ATP induces microgliosis and activated microglial cells migrate to the site of injury, proliferate, and phagocytose cells, and cellular compartments. However, excessive activation of microglia could contribute to the progression of chronic neurodegenerative diseases, though the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. Microglia have the capacity to release a large number of substances that can be detrimental to the surrounding neurons, including glutamate, ATP, and reactive oxygen species. However, how altered neurotransmission following acute insults or chronic neurodegenerative conditions modulates microglial functions is still poorly understood. This review summarizes the relevant data regarding the role of neurotransmitter receptors in microglial physiology and pathology.
One long standing aspect of microglia biology was never questioned; their involvement in brain disease. Based on morphological changes (retracted processes and amoeboid shape) that inevitably occur in these cells in case of damage in the central nervous system, microglia in the diseased brain were called "activated." Because "activated" microglia were always found in direct neighborhood to dead or dying neuron, and since it is known now for more than 20 years that cultured microglia release numerous factors that are able to kill neurons, microglia "activation" was often seen as a neurotoxic process. From an evolutionary point of view, however, it is difficult to understand why an important, mostly post-mitotic and highly vulnerable organ like the brain would host numerous potential killers. This review is aimed to critically reconsider the term microglia neurotoxicity and to discuss experimental problems around microglia biology, that often have led to the conclusion that microglia are neurotoxic cells.
Brain function depends critically on the interactions among the underlying components that comprise neural circuits. This includes coordinated activity in pre-synaptic and postsynaptic neuronal elements, but also in the non-neuronal elements such as glial cells. Microglia are glial cells in the central nervous system (CNS) that have well-known roles in neuronal immune function, responding to infections and brain injury and influencing the progress of neurodegenerative disorders. However, microglia are also surveyors of the healthy brain, continuously extending and retracting their processes and making contacts with pre- and postsynaptic elements of neural circuits, a process that clearly consumes considerable energy. Pruning of synapses during development and in response to injury has also been documented, and we propose that this extensive surveillance of the brain parenchyma in adult healthy brain results in similar fine-tuning of neural circuits. A reasonable extension is that a dysfunction of such a homeostatic role of microglia could be a primary cause of neuronal disease. Indeed, neuronal functions including cognition, personality, and information processing are affected by immune status. In this review we focus on the interactions between microglia and synapses, the possible cellular and molecular mechanisms that mediate such contacts, and the possible implications these interactions may have in the fine tuning of neural circuits that is so important for physiological brain function.
Cytosine methylation is an epigenetic modification of DNA catalyzed by DNA methyltransferases. Cytosine methylation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is believed to have relative underrepresentation; however, possible tissue and cell differences in mtDNA methylation and relationships to neurodegenerative disease have not been examined. We show by immunoblotting that DNA methyltransferase 3A (Dnmt3a) isoform is present in pure mitochondria of adult mouse CNS, skeletal muscle, and testes, and adult human cerebral cortex. Dnmt1 was not detected in adult mouse CNS or skeletal muscle mitochondria but appeared bound to the outer mitochondrial membrane. Immunofluorescence confirmed the mitochondrial localization of Dnmt3a and showed 5-methylcytosine (5mC) immunoreactivity in mitochondria of neurons and skeletal muscle myofibers. DNA pyrosequencing of two loci (D-loop and 16S rRNA gene) and twelve cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) sites in mtDNA directly showed a tissue differential presence of 5mC. Because mitochondria have been implicated in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but the disease mechanisms are uncertain, we evaluated mitochondrial Dnmt3a and 5mC levels in human superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) transgenic mouse models of ALS. Mitochondrial Dnmt3a protein levels were reduced significantly in skeletal muscle and spinal cord at presymptomatic or early disease. Immunofluorescence showed that 5mC immunoreactivity was present in mitochondria of neurons and skeletal myofibers, and 5mC immunoreactivity became aggregated in motor neurons of ALS mice. DNA pyrosequencing revealed significant abnormalities in 16S rRNA gene methylation in ALS mice. Immunofluorescence showed that 5mC immunoreactivity can be sequestered into autophagosomes and that mitophagy was increased and mitochondrial content was decreased in skeletal muscle in ALS mice. This study reveals a tissue-preferential mitochondrial localization of Dnmt3a and presence of cytosine methylation in mtDNA of nervous tissue and skeletal muscle and demonstrates that mtDNA methylation patterns and mitochondrial Dnmt3a levels are abnormal in skeletal muscle and spinal cord of presymptomatic ALS mice, and these abnormalities occur in parallel with loss of myofiber mitochondria.