Macrophage subsets and microglia in multiple sclerosis

Acta Neuropathol. 2014 Aug;128(2):191-213. doi: 10.1007/s00401-014-1310-2. Epub 2014 Jun 22.


Along with microglia and monocyte-derived macrophages, macrophages in the perivascular space, choroid plexus, and meninges are the principal effector cells in neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders. These phagocytes are highly heterogeneous cells displaying spatial- and temporal-dependent identities in the healthy, injured, and inflamed CNS. In the last decade, researchers have debated on whether phagocytes subtypes and phenotypes are pathogenic or protective in CNS pathologies. In the context of this dichotomy, we summarize and discuss the current knowledge on the spatiotemporal physiology of macrophage subsets and microglia in the healthy and diseased CNS, and elaborate on factors regulating their behavior. In addition, the impact of macrophages present in lymphoid organs on CNS pathologies is defined. The prime focus of this review is on multiple sclerosis (MS), which is characterized by inflammation, demyelination, neurodegeneration, and CNS repair, and in which microglia and macrophages have been extensively scrutinized. On one hand, microglia and macrophages promote neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative events in MS by releasing inflammatory mediators and stimulating leukocyte activity and infiltration into the CNS. On the other hand, microglia and macrophages assist in CNS repair through the production of neurotrophic factors and clearance of inhibitory myelin debris. Finally, we define how microglia and macrophage physiology can be harnessed for new therapeutics aimed at suppressing neuroinflammatory and cytodegenerative events, as well as promoting CNS repair. We conclude that microglia and macrophages are highly dynamic cells displaying disease stage and location-specific fates in neurological disorders. Changing the physiology of divergent phagocyte subsets at particular disease stages holds promise for future therapeutics for CNS pathologies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / drug therapy
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology