From development to dysfunction: microglia and the complement cascade in CNS homeostasis

Ageing Res Rev. 2013 Jun;12(3):749-56. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2013.02.001. Epub 2013 Feb 16.


Of the many mysteries that surround the brain, few surpass the awe-inspiring complexity of its development. The intricate wiring of the brain at both the system and molecular level is both spatially and temporally regulated in perfect synchrony. How such a delicate, yet elegant, system arises from an embryo's most basic cells remains at the forefront of neuroscientific research. At the cellular level, the competitive dance between synapses struggling to gain dominance seems to be refereed by both neurons themselves and microglia, the innate immune cells of the nervous system. Additionally, the unexpected complement cascade, a major effecter arm of the innate immune system, is almost certainly involved in synaptic remodeling by tagging destined neurons and synapses for destruction. As suddenly as they appear, the mechanisms of neurogenesis recede entering into adulthood. However, with age and insult, these mechanisms boisterously return, resulting in neurodegeneration. This review describes some of the mechanisms involved in synaptogenesis and wiring of the brain from the point of view of the innate immune system and then covers how similar molecular processes return with age and disease, specifically in the context of Alzheimer's disease.

Keywords: C1q; C3; CD11b; CR1; CR3; CX3CR1; Fractalkine; Phagocytosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / immunology
  • Complement System Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Complement System Proteins