Macrophages and Microglia in Central Nervous System Injury: Are They Helpful or Harmful?

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2003 Apr;23(4):385-94. doi: 10.1097/01.WCB.0000061881.75234.5E.


Inflammation has been widely perceived as participating in the etiology of acute and chronic neurodegenerative conditions. Accordingly, in the context of traumatic injuries or chronic neurodegenerative diseases in the central nervous system (CNS), activated microglia have been viewed as detrimental and attempts have been made to treat both conditions by antiinflammatory therapy. Recent studies have suggested that microglia act as stand- by cells in the service of both the immune and the nervous systems. In the healthy CNS these cells are quiescent, but in the event of injury to axons or cell bodies they exercise their neural function by buffering harmful self-compounds and clearing debris from the damaged site, and their immune function by providing immune-related requirements for recovery. Proper regulation of the inflammatory (autoimmune) response to injury will arrest degeneration and promote regrowth, whereas inappropriate regulation will lead to ongoing degeneration. Regulation is achieved by the operation of a T cell-mediated response directed to abundant self-antigens residing in the damaged site. Since this immune-dependent mechanism was found to protect against glutamate toxicity (a major factor in neurodegenerative disorders), boosting of this response might constitute the basis for development of a therapeutic vaccination against neurodegenerative diseases, all of which exhibit similar pathways and patterns of progression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / immunology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Microglia / immunology*