Microglial cells react early to a neurotoxic insult. However, the bioactive factors and the cell-cell interactions leading to microglial activation and finally to a neuroprotective or neurodegenerative outcome remain to be elucidated. Therefore, we analyzed the microglial reaction induced by methylmercury (MeHgCl) using cell cultures of different complexity. Isolated microglia were found to be directly activated by MeHgCl (10(-10) to 10(-6) M), as indicated by process retraction, enhanced lectin staining, and cluster formation. An association of MeHgCl-induced microglial clusters with astrocytes and neurons was observed in three-dimensional cultures. Close proximity was found between the clusters of lectin-stained microglia and astrocytes immunostained for glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), which may facilitate interactions between astrocytes and reactive microglia. In contrast, immunoreactivity for microtubule-associated protein (MAP-2), a neuronal marker, was absent in the vicinity of the microglial clusters. Interactions between astrocytes and microglia were studied in cocultures treated for 10 days with MeHgCl. Interleukin-6 release was increased at 10(-7) M of MeHgCl, whereas it was decreased when each of these two cell types was cultured separately. Moreover, addition of IL-6 to three-dimensional brain cell cultures treated with 3 x 10(-7) M of MeHgCl prevented the decrease in immunostaining of the neuronal markers MAP-2 and neurofilament-M. IL-6 administered to three-dimensional cultures in the absence of MeHgCl caused astrogliosis, as indicated by increased GFAP immunoreactivity. Altogether, these results show that microglial cells are directly activated by MeHgCl and that the interaction between activated microglia and astrocytes can increase local IL-6 release, which may cause astrocyte reactivity and neuroprotection.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.