Reactive astrocytes function as phagocytes after brain ischemia via ABCA1-mediated pathway

Nat Commun. 2017 Jun 22;8(1):28. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-00037-1.


Astrocytes become reactive following various brain insults; however, the functions of reactive astrocytes are poorly understood. Here, we show that reactive astrocytes function as phagocytes after transient ischemic injury and appear in a limited spatiotemporal pattern. Following transient brain ischemia, phagocytic astrocytes are observed within the ischemic penumbra region during the later stage of ischemia. However, phagocytic microglia are mainly observed within the ischemic core region during the earlier stage of ischemia. Phagocytic astrocytes upregulate ABCA1 and its pathway molecules, MEGF10 and GULP1, which are required for phagocytosis, and upregulation of ABCA1 alone is sufficient for enhancement of phagocytosis in vitro. Disrupting ABCA1 in reactive astrocytes result in fewer phagocytic inclusions after ischemia. Together, these findings suggest that astrocytes are transformed into a phagocytic phenotype as a result of increase in ABCA1 and its pathway molecules and contribute to remodeling of damaged tissues and penumbra networks.Astrocytic phagocytosis has been shown to play a role in synaptic pruning during development, but whether adult astrocytes possess phagocytic ability is unclear. Here the authors show that following brain ischemia, reactive astrocytes become phagocytic and engulf debris via the ABCA1 pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1 / genetics
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1 / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Brain Ischemia / pathology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Middle Cerebral Artery / pathology
  • Phagocytosis
  • Rats


  • ABCA1 protein, mouse
  • ABCA1 protein, rat
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1