Mesenchymal stem cells shape microglia effector functions through the release of CX3CL1

Stem Cells. 2012 Sep;30(9):2044-53. doi: 10.1002/stem.1174.


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) display a remarkable ability to modulate the immune response and protect the central nervous system mainly through the release of soluble factors in a paracrine fashion, affecting the functional behavior of cells in the tissues. Here we investigated the effect of the interaction between MSC and microglia in vitro, and we dissected the molecular and cellular mechanisms of this crosstalk. We demonstrated that MSC impair microglia activation by inflammatory cues through the inhibition of the expression and release of inflammatory molecules and stress-associated proteins. We showed that MSC significantly increase microglial expression and release of molecules associated with a neuroprotective phenotype such as CX3CR1, nuclear receptor 4 family, CD200 receptor, and insulin growth factor 1. Interestingly, MSC can enhance functional changes on microglia as depicted by the increase of intracellular calcium concentration and phagocytic activity. This last event is associated with an increased expression of triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells-2, an innate immune receptor involved in phagocytosis in the absence of inflammation. The observed effects on CX3CR1-expressing microglia are due to the release of CX3CL1 by MSC, driven by inflammatory signals, as demonstrated by the reversal of the observed results when CX3CL1 expression was silenced in MSC or its release was blocked. Finally, we showed that exogenous CX3CL1 induce phenotypic and functional changes of microglia similar to those induced by MSC. These findings demonstrate that MSC instruct, through the release of CX3CL1, microglia responsiveness to proinflammatory signals by modulating constitutive "calming" receptors, typically expressed by "steady-state microglia" thus switching microglia from a detrimental phenotype to a neuroprotective one.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cell Growth Processes / physiology
  • Chemokine CX3CL1 / metabolism*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microglia / cytology
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Phagocytosis


  • Chemokine CX3CL1