A role for TREM2 ligands in the phagocytosis of apoptotic neuronal cells by microglia

J Neurochem. 2009 May;109(4):1144-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.06042.x. Epub 2009 Mar 19.


Following neuronal injury, microglia initiate repair by phagocytosing dead neurons without eliciting inflammation. Prior evidence indicates triggering receptor expressed by myeloid cells-2 (TREM2) promotes phagocytosis and retards inflammation. However, evidence that microglia and neurons directly interact through TREM2 to orchestrate microglial function is lacking. We here demonstrate that TREM2 interacts with endogenous ligands on neurons. Staining with TREM2-Fc identified TREM2 ligands (TREM2-L) on Neuro2A cells and on cultured cortical and dopamine neurons. Apoptosis greatly increased the expression of TREM2-L. Furthermore, apoptotic neurons stimulated TREM2 signaling, and an anti-TREM2 mAb blocked stimulation. To examine the interaction between TREM2 and TREM2-L in phagocytosis, we studied BV2 microglial cells and their engulfment of apoptotic Neuro2A. One of our anti-TREM2 mAb, but not others, reduced engulfment, suggesting the presence of a functional site on TREM2 interacting with neurons. Further, Chinese hamster ovary cells transfected with TREM2 conferred phagocytic activity of neuronal cells demonstrating that TREM2 is both required and sufficient for competent uptake of apoptotic neuronal cells. Finally, while TREM2-L are expressed on neurons, TREM2 is not; in the brain, it is found on microglia. TREM2 and TREM2-L form a receptor-ligand pair connecting microglia with apoptotic neurons, directing removal of damaged cells to allow repair.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / chemistry
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Separation
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Lentivirus / genetics
  • Ligands
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / immunology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Myeloid Cells / drug effects
  • Myeloid Cells / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Phagocytosis / physiology*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Receptors, Immunologic / immunology
  • Receptors, Immunologic / physiology*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Transfection


  • Antibodies
  • Ligands
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Trem2 protein, mouse