Subtle regional differences in microglial phenotype exist in the adult mouse brain. We investigated whether these differences were amplified during ageing and following systemic challenge with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). We studied microglial morphology and phenotype in young (4mo) and aged (21mo) C57/BL6 mice using immunohistochemistry and quantified the expression levels of surface molecules on microglia in white and grey matter along the rostral-caudal neuraxis. We detected significant regional, age dependent differences in microglial phenotypes, with the microglia of white matter and caudal areas of the CNS exhibiting greater upregulation of CD11b, CD68, CD11c, F4/80 and FcγRI than grey matter and rostral CNS areas. Upregulation of CD11c with age was restricted to the white matter, as was the appearance of multinucleated giant cells. Systemic LPS caused a subtle upregulation of FcγRI after 24 h, but the other markers examined were not affected. Burrowing behaviour and static rod assays were used to assess hippocampal and cerebellar integrity. Aged mice exhibited exaggerated and prolonged burrowing deficits following systemic LPS injection, while in the absence of an inflammatory challenge aged mice performed significantly worse than young mice in the static rod test. Taken together, these findings show that the effects of age on microglial phenotype and functional integrity vary significantly between CNS compartments, as do, albeit to a lesser extent, the effects of systemic LPS.
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