Microglia: intrinsic immuneffector cell of the brain

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1995 Mar;20(3):269-87. doi: 10.1016/0165-0173(94)00015-h.


Microglia form a regularly spaced network of resident glial cells throughout the central nervous system (CNS). They are morphologically, immunophenotypically and functionally related to cells of the monocyte/macrophage lineage. In the ultimate vicinity of the blood-brain barrier two specialized subsets of macrophages/microglia can be distinguished: firstly, perivascular cells which are enclosed within the basal lamina and secondly juxtavascular microglia which make direct contact with the parenchymal side of the CNS vascular basal lamina but represent true intraparenchymal resident microglia. Bone marrow chimera experiments indicates that a high percentage of the perivascular cells undergoes replacement with bone marrow-derived cells. In contrast, juxtavascular microglia like other resident microglia form a highly stable pool of CNS cells with extremely little turnover with the bone marrow compartment. Both the perivascular cells and the juxtavascular microglia play an important role in initiating and maintaining CNS autoimmune injury due to their strategic localization at a site close to the blood-brain barrier, their rapid inducibility for MHC class II antigens and their potential scavenger role as phagocytic cells. The constantly replaced pool of perivascular cells probably represents an entry route by which HIV gets access to the brain. Microglia are the first cell type to respond to several types of CNS injury. Microglial activation involves a stereotypic pattern of cellular responses, such as proliferation, increased or de-novo expression of immunomolecules, recruitment to the site of injury and functional changes, e.g., the release of cytotoxic and/or inflammatory mediators. In addition, microglia have a strong antigen presenting function and a pronounced cytotoxic function. Microglial activation is a graded response, i.e., microglia only transform into intrinsic brain phagocytes under conditions of neuronal and or synaptic/terminal degeneration. In T-cell-mediated autoimmune injury of the nervous system, microglial activation follows these lines and occurs at an early stage of disease development. In experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), microglia proliferate vigorously, show a strong expression of MHC class I and II antigens, cell adhesion molecules, release of reactive oxygen intermediates and inflammatory cytokines and transform into phagocytic cells. Due to their pronounced antigen presenting function in vitro, activated microglia rather than astrocytes or endothelial cells are the candidates as intrinsic antigen presenting cel of the brain. In contrast to microglia, astrocytes react with a delay, appear to encase morphologically the inflammatory lesion and may be instrumental in downregulating the T-cell-mediated immune injury by inducing T-cell apoptosis.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Microglia / immunology*