Imaging the dynamic interactions between immune cells and the neurovascular interface in the spinal cord

Exp Neurol. 2019 Dec:322:113046. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2019.113046. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


Imaging the dynamic interactions between immune cells, glia, neurons and the vasculature in living rodents has revolutionized our understanding of physiological and pathological mechanisms of the CNS. Emerging microscopy and imaging technologies have enabled longitudinal tracking of structural and functional changes in a plethora of different cell types in the brain. The development of novel methods also allowed stable and longitudinal optical access to the spinal cord with minimum tissue perturbation. These important advances facilitated the application of in vivo imaging using two-photon microscopy for studies of the healthy, diseased, or injured spinal cord. Indeed, decoding the interactions between peripheral and resident cells with the spinal cord vasculature has shed new light on neuroimmune and vascular mechanisms regulating the onset and progression of neurological diseases. This review focuses on imaging studies of the interactions between the vasculature and peripheral immune cells or microglia, with emphasis on their contribution to neuroinflammation. We also discuss in vivo imaging studies highlighting the importance of neurovascular changes following spinal cord injury. Real-time imaging of blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability and other vascular changes, perivascular glial responses, and immune cell entry has revealed unanticipated cellular mechanisms and novel molecular pathways that can be targeted to protect the injured or diseased CNS. Imaging the cell-cell interactions between the vasculature, immune cells, and neurons as they occur in real time, is a powerful tool both for testing the efficacy of existing therapeutic approaches, and for identifying new targets for limiting damage or enhancing the potential for repair of the affected spinal cord tissue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / immunology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Spinal Cord* / immunology
  • Spinal Cord* / pathology