NADPH oxidase- and mitochondria-derived reactive oxygen species in proinflammatory microglial activation: a bipartisan affair?

Free Radic Biol Med. 2014 Nov;76:34-46. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.07.033. Epub 2014 Aug 1.


Microglia are the resident immune cells of the brain and play major roles in central nervous system development, maintenance, and disease. Brain insults cause microglia to proliferate, migrate, and transform into one or more activated states. Classical M1 activation triggers the production of proinflammatory factors such as tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1β (IL-1β), nitric oxide, and reactive oxygen species (ROS), which, in excess, can exacerbate brain injury. The mechanisms underlying microglial activation are not fully understood, yet reactive oxygen species are increasingly implicated as mediators of microglial activation. In this review, we highlight studies linking reactive oxygen species, in particular hydrogen peroxide derived from NADPH oxidase-generated superoxide, to the classical activation of microglia. In addition, we critically evaluate controversial evidence suggesting a specific role for mitochondrial reactive oxygen species in the activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome, a multiprotein complex that mediates the production of IL-1β and IL-18. Finally, the limitations of common techniques used to implicate mitochondrial ROS in microglial and inflammasome activation, such as the use of the mitochondrially targeted ROS indicator MitoSOX and the mitochondrially targeted antioxidant MitoTEMPO, are also discussed.

Keywords: IL-1β; Inflammation; Macrophage; Microglia; Mitochondria; NF-κB; NLRP3.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Microglia / immunology*
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • NADPH Oxidases