Microglia and mast cells: two tracks on the road to neuroinflammation

FASEB J. 2012 Aug;26(8):3103-17. doi: 10.1096/fj.11-197194. Epub 2012 Apr 19.


One of the more important recent advances in neuroscience research is the understanding that there is extensive communication between the immune system and the central nervous system (CNS). Proinflammatory cytokines play a key role in this communication. The emerging realization is that glia and microglia, in particular, (which are the brain's resident macrophages), constitute an important source of inflammatory mediators and may have fundamental roles in CNS disorders from neuropathic pain and epilepsy to neurodegenerative diseases. Microglia respond also to proinflammatory signals released from other non-neuronal cells, principally those of immune origin. Mast cells are of particular relevance in this context. These immunity-related cells, while resident in the CNS, are capable of migrating across the blood-spinal cord and blood-brain barriers in situations where the barrier is compromised as a result of CNS pathology. Emerging evidence suggests the possibility of mast cell-glia communications and opens exciting new perspectives for designing therapies to target neuroinflammation by differentially modulating the activation of non-neuronal cells normally controlling neuronal sensitization, both peripherally and centrally. This review aims to provide an overview of recent progress relating to the pathobiology of neuroinflammation, the role of microglia, neuroimmune interactions involving mast cells, in particular, and the possibility that mast cell-microglia crosstalk may contribute to the exacerbation of acute symptoms of chronic neurodegenerative disease and accelerate disease progression, as well as promote pain transmission pathways. We conclude by considering the therapeutic potential of treating systemic inflammation or blockade of signaling pathways from the periphery to the brain in such settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Mast Cells / physiology*
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Purinergic / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Receptors, Purinergic