Perinatal brain injuries, including encephalopathy related to fetal growth restriction, encephalopathy of prematurity, neonatal encephalopathy of the term neonate, and neonatal stroke, are a major cause of neurodevelopmental disorders. They trigger cellular and molecular cascades that lead in many cases to permanent motor, cognitive, and/or behavioral deficits. Damage includes neuronal degeneration, selective loss of subclasses of interneurons, blocked maturation of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells leading to dysmyelination, axonopathy and very likely synaptopathy, leading to impaired connectivity. The nature and severity of changes vary according to the type and severity of insult and maturation stage of the brain. Microglial activation has been demonstrated almost ubiquitously in perinatal brain injuries and these responses are key cell orchestrators of brain pathology but also attempts at repair. These divergent roles are facilitated by a diverse suite of transcriptional profiles and through a complex dialogue with other brain cell types. Adding to the complexity of understanding microglia and how to modulate them to protect the brain is that these cells have their own developmental stages, enabling them to be key participants in brain building. Of note, not only do microglia help build the brain and respond to brain injury, but they are a key cell in the transduction of systemic inflammation into neuroinflammation. Systemic inflammatory exposure is a key risk factor for poor neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm born infants. Based on these observations, microglia appear as a key cell target for neuroprotection in perinatal brain injuries. Numerous strategies have been developed experimentally to modulate microglia and attenuate brain injury based on these strong supporting data and we will summarize these.
Keywords: encephalopathy; neurodegenerative disorders; neuroinflammation; neuroprotection; prematurity; stroke.