An engulfment assay: a protocol to assess interactions between CNS phagocytes and neurons

J Vis Exp. 2014 Jun 8;(88):51482. doi: 10.3791/51482.


Phagocytosis is a process in which a cell engulfs material (entire cell, parts of a cell, debris, etc.) in its surrounding extracellular environment and subsequently digests this material, commonly through lysosomal degradation. Microglia are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS) whose phagocytic function has been described in a broad range of conditions from neurodegenerative disease (e.g., beta-amyloid clearance in Alzheimer's disease) to development of the healthy brain (e.g., synaptic pruning)(1-6). The following protocol is an engulfment assay developed to visualize and quantify microglia-mediated engulfment of presynaptic inputs in the developing mouse retinogeniculate system(7). While this assay was used to assess microglia function in this particular context, a similar approach may be used to assess other phagocytes throughout the brain (e.g., astrocytes) and the rest of the body (e.g., peripheral macrophages) as well as other contexts in which synaptic remodeling occurs (e.g. ,brain injury/disease).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / cytology*
  • Mice
  • Microglia / cytology
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Phagocytes / cytology*
  • Synapses / physiology