Microglia Responses in Acute and Chronic Neurological Diseases: What Microglia-Specific Transcriptomic Studies Taught (and did Not Teach) Us

Front Aging Neurosci. 2017 Jul 21:9:227. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2017.00227. eCollection 2017.


Over the last decade, microglia have been acknowledged to be key players in central nervous system (CNS) under both physiological and pathological conditions. They constantly survey the CNS environment and as immune cells, in pathological contexts, they provide the first host defense and orchestrate the immune response. It is well recognized that under pathological conditions microglia have both sequential and simultaneous, beneficial and detrimental effects. Cell-specific transcriptomics recently became popular in Neuroscience field allowing concurrent monitoring of the expression of numerous genes in a given cell population. Moreover, by comparing two or more conditions, these approaches permit to unbiasedly identify deregulated genes and pathways. A growing number of studies have thus investigated microglial transcriptome remodeling over the course of neuropathological conditions and highlighted the molecular diversity of microglial response to different diseases. In the present work, we restrict our review to microglia obtained directly from in vivo samples and not cell culture, and to studies using whole-genome strategies. We first critically review the different methods developed to decipher microglia transcriptome. In particular, we compare advantages and drawbacks of flow cytometry and laser microdissection to isolate pure microglia population as well as identification of deregulated microglial genes obtained via RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) vs. microarrays approaches. Second, we summarize insights obtained from microglia transcriptomes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, pain and more chronic neurological conditions including Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer disease (AD) and Multiple sclerosis (MS). Transcriptomic responses of microglia in other non-neurodegenerative CNS disorders such as gliomas and sepsis are also addressed. Third, we present a comparison of the most activated pathways in each neuropathological condition using Gene ontology (GO) classification and highlight the diversity of microglia response to insults focusing on their pro- and anti-inflammatory signatures. Finally, we discuss the potential of the latest technological advances, in particular, single cell RNA-Seq to unravel the individual microglial response diversity in neuropathological contexts.

Keywords: CNS traumatisms; cell-specific transcriptomics; glioma; microglia; neurodegenerative diseases; peripheral immune challenges.

Publication types

  • Review