Microglia are brain-resident myeloid cells that mediate key functions to support the CNS. Microglia express a wide range of receptors that act as molecular sensors, which recognize exogenous or endogenous CNS insults and initiate an immune response. In addition to their classical immune cell function, microglia act as guardians of the brain by promoting phagocytic clearance and providing trophic support to ensure tissue repair and maintain cerebral homeostasis. Conditions associated with loss of homeostasis or tissue changes induce several dynamic microglial processes, including changes of cellular morphology, surface phenotype, secretory mediators, and proliferative responses (referred to as an “activated state”). Activated microglia represent a common pathological feature of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Cumulative evidence suggests that microglial inflammatory activity in AD is increased while microglial-mediated clearance mechanisms are compromised. Microglia are perpetually engaged in a mutual interaction with the surrounding environment in CNS; thus, diverse microglial reactions at different disease stages may open new avenues for therapeutic intervention and modification of inflammatory activities. In this Review, the role of microglia in the pathogenesis of AD and the modulation of microglia activity as a therapeutic modality will be discussed.
Heela Sarlus, Michael T. Heneka
Oligodendrocytes are glial cells that populate the entire CNS after they have differentiated from oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. From birth onward, oligodendrocytes initiate wrapping of neuronal axons with a multilamellar lipid structure called myelin. Apart from their well-established function in action potential propagation, more recent data indicate that oligodendrocytes are essential for providing metabolic support to neurons. Oligodendrocytes transfer energy metabolites to neurons through cytoplasmic “myelinic” channels and monocarboxylate transporters, which allow for the fast delivery of short-carbon-chain energy metabolites like pyruvate and lactate to neurons. These substrates are metabolized and contribute to ATP synthesis in neurons. This Review will discuss our current understanding of this metabolic supportive function of oligodendrocytes and its potential impact in human neurodegenerative disease and related animal models.
Thomas Philips, Jeffrey D. Rothstein
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes severe loss of pancreatic β cells. Autoreactive T cells are key mediators of β cell destruction. Studies of organ donors with T1D that have examined T cells in pancreas, the diabetogenic insulitis lesion, and lymphoid tissues have revealed a broad repertoire of target antigens and T cell receptor (TCR) usage, with initial evidence of public TCR sequences that are shared by individuals with T1D. Neoepitopes derived from post-translational modifications of native antigens are emerging as novel targets that are more likely to evade self-tolerance. Further studies will determine whether T cell responses to neoepitopes are major disease drivers that could impact prediction, prevention, and therapy. This Review provides an overview of recent progress in our knowledge of autoreactive T cells that has emerged from experimental and clinical research as well as pathology investigations.
Microglia are the main resident macrophage population of the CNS and perform numerous functions required for CNS development, homeostasis, immunity, and repair. Many lines of evidence also indicate that dysregulation of microglia contributes to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative and behavioral diseases. These observations provide a compelling argument to more clearly define the mechanisms that control microglia identity and function in health and disease. In this Review, we present a conceptual framework for how different classes of transcription factors interact to select and activate regulatory elements that control microglia development and their responses to internal and external signals. We then describe functions of specific transcription factors in normal and pathological contexts and conclude with a consideration of open questions to be addressed in the future.
Inge R. Holtman, Dylan Skola, Christopher K. Glass
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disorder that is characterized by loss of motor neurons and shows clinical, pathological, and genetic overlap with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Activated microglia are a universal feature of ALS/FTD pathology; however, their role in disease pathogenesis remains incompletely understood. The recent discovery that ORF 72 on chromosome 9 (C9orf72), the gene most commonly mutated in ALS/FTD, has an important role in myeloid cells opened the possibility that altered microglial function plays an active role in disease. This Review highlights the contribution of microglia to ALS/FTD pathogenesis, discusses the connection between autoimmunity and ALS/FTD, and explores the possibility that C9orf72 and other ALS/FTD genes may have a “dual effect” on both neuronal and myeloid cell function that could explain a shared propensity for altered systemic immunity and neurodegeneration.
Deepti Lall, Robert H. Baloh
Spinal cord injury (SCI) lesions present diverse challenges for repair strategies. Anatomically complete injuries require restoration of neural connectivity across lesions. Anatomically incomplete injuries may benefit from augmentation of spontaneous circuit reorganization. Here, we review SCI cell biology, which varies considerably across three different lesion-related tissue compartments: (a) non-neural lesion core, (b) astrocyte scar border, and (c) surrounding spared but reactive neural tissue. After SCI, axon growth and circuit reorganization are determined by neuron-cell-autonomous mechanisms and by interactions among neurons, glia, and immune and other cells. These interactions are shaped by both the presence and the absence of growth-modulating molecules, which vary markedly in different lesion compartments. The emerging understanding of how SCI cell biology differs across lesion compartments is fundamental to developing rationally targeted repair strategies.
Timothy M. O’Shea, Joshua E. Burda, Michael V. Sofroniew
Microglial cells are the resident tissue macrophages of the CNS and are widely recognized for their immune surveillance of the healthy CNS. In addition to this well-accepted function, recent findings point to major roles for microglia in instructing and regulating the proper function of the neuronal networks in the adult CNS, but these cells are also involved in creating neuronal networks by orchestrating construction of the whole network during development. In this Review, we highlight recent findings about the steady-state functions of microglial cells, the factors that are important for physiological microglial function, and how microglia help to maintain tissue homeostasis in the CNS.
Katrin Kierdorf, Marco Prinz
Prion diseases are a group of progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disorders characterized by deposition of scrapie prion protein (PrPSc) in the CNS. This deposition is accompanied by neuronal loss, spongiform change, astrogliosis, and conspicuous microglial activation. Here, we argue that microglia play an overall neuroprotective role in prion pathogenesis. Several microglia-related molecules, such as Toll-like receptors (TLRs), the complement system, cytokines, chemokines, inflammatory regulators, and phagocytosis mediators, are involved in prion pathogenesis. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the microglial response to prion infection are largely unknown. Consequently, we lack a comprehensive understanding of the regulatory network of microglial activation. On the positive side, recent findings suggest that therapeutic strategies modulating microglial activation and function may have merit in prion disease. Moreover, studies on the role of microglia in prion disease could deepen our understanding of neuroinflammation in a broad range of neurodegenerative disorders.
Adriano Aguzzi, Caihong Zhu
Substantial preclinical and clinical research into chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD) has come to fruition in the last five years, generating a clear understanding of a complex cytokine-driven cellular network. cGVHD is mediated by naive T cells differentiating within IL-17–secreting T cell and follicular Th cell paradigms to generate IL-21 and IL-17A, which drive pathogenic germinal center (GC) B cell reactions and monocyte-macrophage differentiation, respectively. cGVHD pathogenesis includes thymic damage, impaired antigen presentation, and a failure in IL-2–dependent Treg homeostasis. Pathogenic GC B cell and macrophage reactions culminate in antibody formation and TGF-β secretion, respectively, leading to fibrosis. This new understanding permits the design of rational cytokine and intracellular signaling pathway–targeted therapeutics, reviewed herein.
Kelli P.A. MacDonald, Bruce R. Blazar, Geoffrey R. Hill
Modern immunosuppression regimens effectively control acute rejection and decrease graft loss in the first year after transplantation; however, these regimens do not have a durable effect on long-term graft survival owing to a combination of drug toxicities and the emergence of chronic alloimmune responses. Eliminating drugs and their toxicities while maintaining graft acceptance has been the primary aim of cellular therapies. Tregs suppress both autoimmune and alloimmune responses and are particularly effective in protecting allografts in experimental transplant models. Further, Treg-based therapies are selective, do not require harsh conditioning, and do not have a risk of graft-versus-host disease. Trial designs should consider the distinct immunological features of each transplanted organ, Treg preparations, dose, and frequency, and the ability to detect and quantify Treg effects in a given transplant environment. In this Review, we detail the ongoing clinical trials of Treg therapy in liver and kidney transplantation. Integration of Treg biology gleaned from preclinical models and experiences in human organ transplantation should allow for optimization of trial design that will determine the potential efficacy of a given therapy and provide guidelines for further therapeutic development.
Qizhi Tang, Flavio Vincenti
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