Microglia directly associate with pericytes in the central nervous system

Glia. 2023 Aug;71(8):1847-1869. doi: 10.1002/glia.24371. Epub 2023 Mar 30.


Cerebral blood flow (CBF) is important for the maintenance of brain function and its dysregulation has been implicated in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Microglia associations with capillaries suggest they may play a role in the regulation of CBF or the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). We explored the relationship between microglia and pericytes, a vessel-resident cell type that has a major role in the control of CBF and maintenance of the BBB, discovering a spatially distinct subset of microglia that closely associate with pericytes. We termed these pericyte-associated microglia (PEM). PEM are present throughout the brain and spinal cord in NG2DsRed × CX3 CR1+/GFP mice, and in the human frontal cortex. Using in vivo two-photon microscopy, we found microglia residing adjacent to pericytes at all levels of the capillary tree and found they can maintain their position for at least 28 days. PEM can associate with pericytes lacking astroglial endfeet coverage and capillary vessel width is increased beneath pericytes with or without an associated PEM, but capillary width decreases if a pericyte loses a PEM. Deletion of the microglia fractalkine receptor (CX3 CR1) did not disrupt the association between pericytes and PEM. Finally, we found the proportion of microglia that are PEM declines in the superior frontal gyrus in AD. In summary, we identify microglia that specifically associate with pericytes and find these are reduced in number in AD, which may be a novel mechanism contributing to vascular dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; capillary; in vivo two-photon microscopy; microglia; pericyte.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia
  • Pericytes* / metabolism