Microglia in the brain show distinctive phenotypes that serve different functions. In particular, M2-polarized microglia are anti-inflammatory and phagocytic cells that serve a restorative function. In this study, we investigated whether mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) enhance the phagocytic clearance of α-synuclein via M2 microglia polarization, and thereby exert neuroprotective effects in α-synuclein-enriched experimental models and patients with multiple system atrophy (MSA). Treatment of BV2 cells with α-synuclein induced an inflammatory phenotype, whereas co-culture of α-synuclein-treated BV2 cells with MSCs induced an anti-inflammatory M2 phenotype, with decreased α-synuclein levels and increased lysosomal activity, leading to greater viability of neuronal cells co-cultured with BV2 cells. Using IL-4 receptor siRNA in BV2 cells and IL-4 siRNA in MSCs, we found that M2 microglia polarization was induced by IL-4 secreted from MSCs. In α-synuclein-inoculated mice, MSC treatment induced M2 microglia polarization decreased α-synuclein levels, and had a prosurvival effect on neurons. Using IL-4 and IL-4 receptor knockout mice, we further confirmed that IL-4 secreted from MSCs induced phagocytic clearance of α-synuclein through M2 microglia polarization. Next, we found that the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from MSC-transplanted MSA patients induced microglia M2 polarization and had a prosurvival effect via enhanced clearance of α-synuclein in α-synuclein-treated BV2 cells. Finally, a serial CSF study demonstrated that changes in oligomeric α-synuclein from baseline to 1-year follow-up were greater in the CSF of MSC-transplanted MSA patients than in placebo-transplanted MSA patients. These findings indicate that MSCs exert a neuroprotective effect via the clearance of extracellular α-synuclein by controlling microglia M2 polarization, suggesting that MSCs could be used as a disease-modifying therapy for patients with α-synucleinopathies.
Keywords: IL-4; M2-polarized microglia; Mesenchymal stem cells; α-Synuclein.