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Exp Neurol. 2012 Sep;237(1):147-52. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2012.06.011. Epub 2012 Jun 23.

Transformation from a neuroprotective to a neurotoxic microglial phenotype in a mouse model of ALS.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, Changsha, 410008, China.


Neuroinflammation is a prominent pathological feature in the spinal cords of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as in transgenic mouse models of inherited ALS, and is characterized by activated microglia. Earlier studies showed that activated microglia play important roles in both motoneuron protection and injury. More recent studies investigating the pathoprogression of disease in ALS mice have demonstrated that the in vivo activation states of microglia, including their anti- versus pro-inflammatory responses, are best characterized as a continuum between two extreme activation states which are represented as a neuroprotective M2 (alternatively-activated) phenotypic state or an injurious/toxic M1 (classically-activated) state; a more complete understanding and determination the temporal transformation of microglia activation states in the ALS disease pathoprogression is therefore warranted. In the current study, we demonstrated a phenotypic and functional transformation of adult ALS mice microglia that overexpress mutant superoxide dismutase (mSOD1). mSOD1 microglia isolated from ALS mice at disease onset expressed higher levels of Ym1, CD163 and BDNF (markers of M2) mRNA and lower levels of Nox2 (a marker of M1) mRNA compared with mSOD1 microglia isolated from ALS mice at end-stage disease. More importantly, when co-cultured with motoneurons, these mSOD1 M2 microglia were neuroprotective and enhanced motoneuron survival than similarly co-cultured mSOD1 M1 microglia; end-stage mSOD1 M1 microglia were toxic to motoneurons. Our study documents that adult microglia isolated from ALS mice at disease onset have an M2 phenotype and protect motoneurons whereas microglia isolated from end-stage disease ALS mice have adopted an M1 phenotype and are neurotoxic supporting the dual phenotypes of microglia and their transformation during disease pathoprogression in these mice. Thus, harnessing the neuroprotective potential of microglia may provide novel avenues for ALS therapies.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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