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J Physiol Paris. 2002 Apr-Jun;96(3-4):289-99.

Brain plasticity and microglia: is transsynaptic glial activation in the thalamus after limb denervation linked to cortical plasticity and central sensitisation?

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Molecular Neuropsychiatry, Department of Neuropathology, Charing Cross Hospital, Imperial College School of Medicine, London W6 8RF, UK.


Microglia are a subset of tissue-macrophages that are ubiquitously distributed throughout the entire CNS. In health, they remain largely dormant until activated by a pathological stimulus. The availability of more sensitive detection techniques has allowed the early measurement of the cell responses of microglia in areas with few signs of active pathology. Subtle neuronal injury can induce microglial activation in retrograde and anterograde projection areas remote from the primary lesion focus. There is also evidence that in cases of long-standing abnormal neuronal activity, such as in patients after limb amputation with chronic pain and phantom sensations, glial activation may occur transsynaptically in the thalamus. Such neuronally driven glial responses may be related to the emergence central sensitisation in chronic pain states or plasticity phenomena in the cerebral cortex. It is suggested, that such persistent low-level microglial activation is not adequately described by the traditional concept of phagocyte-mediated tissue damage that largely evolved from studies of acute brain lesion models or acute human brain pathology. Due to the presence of signal molecules that can act on neurons and microglia alike, the communication between neurons and microglia is likely to be bi-directional. Persistent subtle microglial activity may modulate basal synaptic transmission and thus neuronal functioning either directly or through the interaction with astrocytes. The activation of microglia leads to the emergence of microstructural as well as functional compartments in which neurokines, interleukins and other signalling molecules introduce a qualitatively different, more open mode of cell-cell communication that is normally absent from the healthy adult brain. This 'neo-compartmentalisation', however, occurs along predictable neuronal pathways within which these glial changes are themselves under the modulatory influence of neurons or other glial cells and are subject to the evolving state of the pathology. Depending on the disease state, yet relatively independent of the specific disease cause, fluctuations in the modulatory influence by non-neuronal cells may form the cellular basis for the variability of brain plasticity phenomena, i.e. the plasticity of plasticity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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