Activation of serotonin receptors promotes microglial injury-induced motility but attenuates phagocytic activity

Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Mar;26(3):419-28. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2011.12.002. Epub 2011 Dec 17.


Microglia, the brain immune cell, express several neurotransmitter receptors which modulate microglial functions. In this project we studied the impact of serotonin receptor activation on distinct microglial properties as serotonin deficiency not only has been linked to a number of psychiatric disease like depression and anxiety but may also permeate from the periphery through blood-brain barrier openings seen in neurodegenerative disease. First, we tested the impact of serotonin on the microglial response to an insult caused by a laser lesion in the cortex of acute slices from Cx3Cr1-GFP-/+ mice. In the presence of serotonin the microglial processes moved more rapidly towards the laser lesion which is considered to be a chemotactic response to ATP. Similarly, the chemotactic response of cultured microglia to ATP was also enhanced by serotonin. Quantification of phagocytic activity by determining the uptake of microspheres showed that the amoeboid microglia in slices from early postnatal animals or microglia in culture respond to serotonin application with a decreased phagocytic activity whereas we could not detect any significant change in ramified microglia in situ. The presence of microglial serotonin receptors was confirmed by patch-clamp experiments in culture and amoeboid microglia and by qPCR analysis of RNA isolated from primary cultured and acutely isolated adult microglia. These data suggest that microglia express functional serotonin receptors linked to distinct microglial properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chemotaxis / physiology
  • Mice
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Phagocytosis / physiology*
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Serotonin / physiology*
  • Serotonin / physiology*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin
  • Adenosine Triphosphate