Microglial activation precedes dopamine terminal pathology in methamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity

Exp Neurol. 2004 May;187(1):47-57. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2004.01.010.


Previous studies have demonstrated methamphetamine (METH)-induced toxicity to dopaminergic and serotonergic axons in rat striatum. Although several studies have identified the nature of reactive astrogliosis in this lesion model, the response of microglia has not been examined in detail. In this investigation, we characterized the temporal relationship of reactive microgliosis to neuropathological alterations of dopaminergic axons in striatum following exposure to methamphetamine. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were administered a neurotoxic regimen of methamphetamine and survived 12 h, or 1, 2, 4, and 6 days after treatment. Immunohistochemical methods were used to evaluate reactive changes in microglia throughout the brain of methamphetamine-treated rats, with a particular focus upon striatum. Pronounced morphological changes, indicative of reactive microgliosis, were evident in the brains of all methamphetamine-treated animals and were absent in saline-treated control animals. These included hyperplastic changes in cell morphology that substantially increased the size and staining intensity of reactive microglia. Quantitative analysis of reactive microglial changes in striatum demonstrated that these changes were most robust within the ventrolateral region and were maximal 2 days after methamphetamine administration. Analysis of tissue also revealed that microglial activation preceded the appearance of pathological changes in striatal dopamine fibers. Reactive microgliosis was also observed in extra-striatal regions (somatosensory and piriform cortices, and periaqueductal gray). These data demonstrate a consistent, robust, and selective activation of microglia in response to methamphetamine administration that, at least in striatum, precedes the appearance of morphological indicators of axon pathology. These observations raise the possibility that activated microglia may contribute to methamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Size / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Hypothermia, Induced
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine / toxicity*
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / metabolism*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / pathology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / therapy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Methamphetamine
  • Dopamine