Age-related alterations in the dynamic behavior of microglia

Aging Cell. 2011 Apr;10(2):263-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9726.2010.00660.x. Epub 2010 Dec 29.


Microglia, the primary resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS), exhibit dynamic behavior involving rapid process motility and cellular migration that is thought to underlie key functions of immune surveillance and tissue repair. Although age-related changes in microglial activation have been implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases of aging, how dynamic behavior in microglia is influenced by aging is not fully understood. In this study, we employed live imaging of retinal microglia in situ to compare microglial morphology and behavioral dynamics in young and aged animals. We found that aged microglia in the resting state have significantly smaller and less branched dendritic arbors, and also slower process motilities, which probably compromise their ability to survey and interact with their environment continuously. We also found that dynamic microglial responses to injury were age-dependent. While young microglia responded to extracellular ATP, an injury-associated signal, by increasing their motility and becoming more ramified, aged microglia exhibited a contrary response, becoming less dynamic and ramified. In response to laser-induced focal tissue injury, aged microglia demonstrated slower acute responses with lower rates of process motility and cellular migration compared with young microglia. Interestingly, the longer term response of disaggregation from the injury site was retarded in aged microglia, indicating that senescent microglial responses, while slower to initiate, are more sustained. Together, these altered features of microglial behavior at rest and following injury reveal an age-dependent dysregulation of immune response in the CNS that may illuminate microglial contributions to age-related neuroinflammatory degeneration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / pharmacology
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • CX3C Chemokine Receptor 1
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia / cytology*
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Receptors, Chemokine / genetics
  • Receptors, Chemokine / metabolism
  • Retina / cytology


  • CX3C Chemokine Receptor 1
  • Cx3cr1 protein, mouse
  • Receptors, Chemokine
  • Adenosine Triphosphate