Background: Emerging evidence indicates that, similarly to what happens for peripheral macrophages, microglia can express different phenotypes depending on microenvironmental signals. In spite of the large literature on inflammation after ischemia, information on M/M phenotype marker expression, their colocalization and temporal evolution in the injured brain is lacking. The present study investigates the presence of microglia/macrophage phenotype markers, their temporal expression, whether they are concomitantly expressed by the same subpopulation, or they are expressed at distinct phases or locations in relation to the ischemic lesion.
Methods: Volume of ischemic lesion, neuronal counts and TUNEL staining were assessed in C57Bl/6 mice at 6-12-24-48 h and 7d after permanent occlusion of the middle cerebral artery. At the same time points, the expression, distribution in the lesioned area, association with a definite morphology and coexpression of the microglia/macrophage markers CD11b, CD45, CD68, Ym1, CD206 were assessed by immunostaining and confocal microscopy.
Results: The results show that: 1) the ischemic lesion induces the expression of selected microglia/macrophage markers that develop over time, each with a specific pattern; 2) each marker has a given localization in the lesioned area with no apparent changes during time, with the exception of CD68 that is confined in the border zone of the lesion at early times but it greatly increases and invades the ischemic core at 7d; 3) while CD68 is expressed in both ramified and globular CD11b cells, Ym1 and CD206 are exclusively expressed by globular CD11b cells.
Conclusions: These data show that the ischemic lesion is accompanied by activation of specific microglia/macrophage phenotype that presents distinctive spatial and temporal features. These different states of microglia/macrophages reflect the complexity of these cells and their ability to differentiate towards a multitude of phenotypes depending on the surrounding micro-environmental signals that can change over time. The data presented in this study provide a basis for understanding this complex response and for developing strategies resulting in promotion of a protective inflammatory phenotype.