Microglia Priming with Aging and Stress

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(1):318-333. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.185. Epub 2016 Sep 8.


The population of aged individuals is increasing worldwide and this has significant health and socio-economic implications. Clinical and experimental studies on aging have discovered myriad changes in the brain, including reduced neurogenesis, increased synaptic aberrations, higher metabolic stress, and augmented inflammation. In rodent models of aging, these alterations are associated with cognitive decline, neurobehavioral deficits, and increased reactivity to immune challenges. In rodents, caloric restriction and young blood-induced revitalization reverses the behavioral effects of aging. The increased inflammation in the aged brain is attributed, in part, to the resident population of microglia. For example, microglia of the aged brain are marked by dystrophic morphology, elevated expression of inflammatory markers, and diminished expression of neuroprotective factors. Importantly, the heightened inflammatory profile of microglia in aging is associated with a 'sensitized' or 'primed' phenotype. Mounting evidence points to a causal link between the primed profile of the aged brain and vulnerability to secondary insults, including infections and psychological stress. Conversely, psychological stress may also induce aging-like sensitization of microglia and increase reactivity to secondary challenges. This review delves into the characteristics of neuroinflammatory signaling and microglial sensitization in aging, its implications in psychological stress, and interventions that reverse aging-associated deficits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Microglia / immunology*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*