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Neurosurgery. 2000 Apr;46(4):957-61; discussion 961-2.

Flow cytometric characterization of tumor-associated macrophages in experimental gliomas.

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Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, Madison 53792-3232, USA.



Although microglia have been suggested to be a component of the inflammatory reaction to tumors of the central nervous system, their role in glioma biology remains unknown. One obstacle to studying the function of microglia is the inability to effectively separate them from macrophages. Because flow cytometry can effectively discern immune cells with similar surface antigens, we evaluated its role in characterizing the mononuclear cell infiltration in experimental gliomas.


Freshly prepared rat C6, 9L, and RG-2 tumor specimens were labeled ex vivo with monoclonal antibodies against CD11b/c, CD45, and CD8a antigens and analyzed by flow cytometry. The extent of microglia (CD11b/c(high), CD45(low)), macrophage (CD11b/c(high), CD45(high)), and lymphocyte (CD11b/c(negative), CD45(high)) infiltration into tumors, tumor periphery, and contralateral tumor-free hemispheres was measured for each glioma type.


Microglia, which accounted for 13 to 34% of viable cells, were distributed throughout the central nervous system and were present in the tumors, tumor periphery, and contralateral tumor-free hemispheres. In contrast, macrophages were less prominent within the tumors and tumor periphery (4.2-12%) and were scarce in the contralateral tumor-free hemispheres (0.9-1.1%). Among the tumor types, RG-2 gliomas had the least microglia/macrophage infiltration. The frequency and the distribution pattern of lymphocytes also varied among tumor models. Whereas lymphocytes accounted for more than one-third of the cells in C6 and 9L tumors, they represented only 1% of cells in RG-2 gliomas.


More abundant than macrophages and scattered throughout the central nervous system, microglia account for a significant component of the inflammatory response to experimental gliomas. A better understanding of microglial function in gliomas may be important in the development of immunotherapy strategies.

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