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J Neurosci. 2005 Apr 27;25(17):4442-51.

Microglia overexpressing the macrophage colony-stimulating factor receptor are neuroprotective in a microglial-hippocampal organotypic coculture system.

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  • 1Neuroscience Research Laboratories, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Microglia with increased expression of the macrophage colony-stimulating factor receptor (M-CSFR; c-fms) are found surrounding plaques in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and in mouse models for AD and after ischemic or traumatic brain injury. Increased expression of M-CSFR causes microglia to adopt an activated state that results in proliferation, release of cytokines, and enhanced phagocytosis. To determine whether M-CSFR-induced microglial activation affects neuronal survival, we assembled a coculture system consisting of BV-2 microglia transfected to overexpress the M-CSFR and hippocampal organotypic slices treated with NMDA. Twenty-four hours after assembly of the coculture, microglia overexpressing M-CSFR proliferated at a higher rate than nontransfected control cells and exhibited enhanced migration toward NMDA-injured hippocampal cultures. Surprisingly, coculture with c-fms-transfected microglia resulted in a dramatic reduction in NMDA-induced neurotoxicity. Similar results were observed when cocultures were treated with the teratogen cyclophosphamide. Biolistic overexpression of M-CSFR on microglia endogenous to the organotypic culture also rescued neurons from excitotoxicity. Furthermore, c-fms-transfected microglia increased neuronal expression of macrophage colony-stimulating factor (M-CSF), the M-CSFR, and neurotrophin receptors in the NMDA-treated slices, as determined with laser capture microdissection. In the coculture system, direct contact between the exogenous microglia and the slice was necessary for neuroprotection. Finally, blocking expression of the M-CSF ligand by exogenous c-fms-transfected microglia with a hammerhead ribozyme compromised their neuroprotective properties. These results demonstrate a protective role for microglia overexpressing M-CSFR in our coculture system and suggest under certain circumstances, activated microglia can help rather than harm neurons subjected to excitotoxic and teratogen-induced injury.

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