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Am J Pathol. 2000 Mar;156(3):1055-65.

Reactive changes of retinal microglia during fatal murine cerebral malaria: effects of dexamethasone and experimental permeabilization of the blood-brain barrier.

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Departments of Pathology and Anatomy and Histology, Institute for Biomedical Research, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Microglial activation and redistribution toward blood vessels are some of the earliest observable events occurring within the central nervous system (CNS) during fatal murine cerebral malaria (FMCM). To investigate stimuli that might modulate microglial reactivity during FMCM we have performed two experimental manipulations and observed microglial responses in retinal whole mounts. First, to determine whether increased blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability in the absence of the malaria parasite initiates the microglial changes, BBB function was compromised experimentally by intracarotid injection of arabinose and retinae were examined 12, 24, or 36 hours later. Second, to determine whether the immune response against the malaria parasite modulates microglial reactivity, infected mice were treated with dexamethasone before day 4 postinoculation. This treatment regime ameliorates cerebral complications without affecting parasite growth. We observed that increased BBB permeability was sufficient to elicit thickening of microglial processes and redistribution of microglia toward the vasculature, characteristic of the early stages of FMCM. However, despite the presence of plasma constituents in the CNS for up to 36 hours, microglia with amoeboid and vacuolated morphology were not observed. Dexamethasone treatment inhibited the up-regulation of alpha-D-galactose expression and reactive morphological changes in microglia during FMCM. These results suggest that disruption of the CNS milieu by entry of plasma constituents, or circulating malaria parasites in the absence of an immune response, by themselves are insufficient to induce the reactive microglial changes that are characteristic of FMCM. In addition, dexamethasone-sensitive event(s), presumably associated with immune system activation, occurring within the first few days of malaria infection are essential for the development of reactive microglia and subsequent fatal neurological complications.

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