Enforced microglial depletion and repopulation as a promising strategy for the treatment of neurological disorders

Glia. 2019 Feb;67(2):217-231. doi: 10.1002/glia.23529. Epub 2018 Oct 30.


Microglia are prominent immune cells in the central nervous system (CNS) and are critical players in both neurological development and homeostasis, and in neurological diseases when dysfunctional. Our previous understanding of the phenotypes and functions of microglia has been greatly extended by a dearth of recent investigations. Distinct genetically defined subsets of microglia are now recognized to perform their own independent functions in specific conditions. The molecular profiling of single microglial cells indicates extensively heterogeneous reactions in different neurological disorders, resulting in multiple potentials for crosstalk with other kinds of CNS cells such as astrocytes and neurons. In settings of neurological diseases it could thus be prudent to establish effective cell-based therapies by targeting entire microglial networks. Notably, activated microglial depletion through genetic targeting or pharmacological therapies within a suitable time window can stimulate replenishment of the CNS niche with new microglia. Additionally, enforced repopulation through provision of replacement cells also represents a potential means of exchanging dysfunctional with functional microglia. In each setting the newly repopulated microglia might have the potential to resolve ongoing neuroinflammation. In this review, we aim to summarize the most recent knowledge of microglia and to highlight microglial depletion and subsequent repopulation as a promising cell replacement therapy. Although glial cell replacement therapy is still in its infancy and future translational studies are still required, the approach is scientifically sound and provides new optimism for managing the neurotoxicity and neuroinflammation induced by activated microglia.

Keywords: cell replacement therapy; depletion; microglia; neuroinflammation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell- and Tissue-Based Therapy / methods*
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / therapy*