White matter aging drives microglial diversity

Neuron. 2021 Feb 11;S0896-6273(21)00073-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2021.01.027. Online ahead of print.


Aging results in gray and white matter degeneration, but the specific microglial responses are unknown. Using single-cell RNA sequencing from white and gray matter separately, we identified white matter-associated microglia (WAMs), which share parts of the disease-associated microglia (DAM) gene signature and are characterized by activation of genes implicated in phagocytic activity and lipid metabolism. WAMs depend on triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2 (TREM2) signaling and are aging dependent. In the aged brain, WAMs form independent of apolipoprotein E (APOE), in contrast to mouse models of Alzheimer's disease, in which microglia with the WAM gene signature are generated prematurely and in an APOE-dependent pathway similar to DAMs. Within the white matter, microglia frequently cluster in nodules, where they are engaged in clearing degenerated myelin. Thus, WAMs may represent a potentially protective response required to clear degenerated myelin accumulating during white matter aging and disease.

Keywords: ApoE; Trem2; microglia, aging; myelin; white matter.