Altered microglia morphology and higher resilience to stress-induced depression-like behavior in CX3CR1-deficient mice

Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Jul;55:126-137. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2015.11.008. Epub 2015 Nov 11.


Microglia are suggested to be involved in several neuropsychiatric diseases. Indeed changes in microglia morphology have been reported in different mouse models of depression. A crucial regulatory system for microglia function is the well-defined CX3C axis. Thus, we aimed to clarify the role of microglia and CX3CR1 in depressive behavior by subjecting CX3CR1-deficient mice to a particular chronic despair model (CDM) paradigm known to exhibit face validity to major depressive disorder. In wild-type mice we observed the development of chronic depressive-like behavior after 5days of repetitive swim stress. 3D-reconstructions of Iba-1-labeled microglia in the dentate molecular layer revealed that behavioral effects were associated with changes in microglia morphology towards a state of hyper-ramification. Chronic treatment with the anti-depressant venlafaxine ameliorated depression-like behavior and restored microglia morphology. In contrast, CX3CR1 deficient mice showed a clear resistance to either (i) stress-induced depressive-like behavior, (ii) changes in microglia morphology and (iii) antidepressant treatment. Our data point towards a role of hyper-ramified microglia in the etiology of chronic depression. The lack of effects in CX3CR1 deficient mice suggests that microglia hyper-ramification is controlled by neuron-microglia signaling via the CX3C axis. However, it remains to be elucidated how hyper-ramified microglia contribute to depressive-like behavior.

Keywords: CX3CL1; CX3CR1; Depression; Fractalkine; Microglia; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Chemokine CX3CL1 / deficiency*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / etiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microglia / pathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*


  • Chemokine CX3CL1