Functional polarization of neuroglia: Implications in neuroinflammation and neurological disorders

Biochem Pharmacol. 2016 Mar 1;103:1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2015.11.003. Epub 2015 Nov 7.


Recent neuroscience research has established the adult brain as a dynamic organ having a unique ability to undergo changes with time. Neuroglia, especially microglia and astrocytes, provide dynamicity to the brain. Activation of these glial cells is a major component of the neuroinflammatory responses underlying brain injury and neurodegeneration. Glial cells execute functional reaction programs in response to diverse microenvironmental signals manifested by neuropathological conditions. Activated microglia exist along a continuum of two functional states of polarization namely M1-type (classical/proinflammatory activation) and M2-type (alternative/anti-inflammatory activation) as in macrophages. The balance between classically and alternatively activated microglial phenotypes influences disease progression in the CNS. The classically activated state of microglia drives the neuroinflammatory response and mediates the detrimental effects on neurons, whereas in their alternative activation state, which is apparently a beneficial activation state, the microglia play a crucial role in tissue maintenance and repair. Likewise, in response to immune or inflammatory microenvironments astrocytes also adopt neurotoxic or neuroprotective phenotypes. Reactive astrocytes exhibit two distinctive functional phenotypes defined by pro- or anti-inflammatory gene expression profile. In this review, we have thoroughly covered recent advances in the understanding of the functional polarization of brain and peripheral glia and its implications in neuroinflammation and neurological disorders. The identifiable phenotypes adopted by neuroglia in response to specific insult or injury can be exploited as promising diagnostic markers of neuroinflammatory diseases. Furthermore, harnessing the beneficial effects of the polarized glia could undoubtedly pave the way for the formulation of novel glia-based therapeutic strategies for diverse neurological disorders.

Keywords: Central nervous system; Functional polarization; Neuroglia; Neuroinflammation; Neurological disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Polarity
  • Central Nervous System / immunology
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / immunology
  • Nervous System Diseases / metabolism
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Neuroglia / immunology
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / physiology*