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J Transl Med. 2006 Mar 30;4:15.

Innate immune functions of microglia isolated from human glioma patients.

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Department of Neurosurgery-Unit 442, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd, Houston, TX 77030, USA.



Innate immunity is considered the first line of host defense and microglia presumably play a critical role in mediating potent innate immune responses to traumatic and infectious challenges in the human brain. Fundamental impairments of the adaptive immune system in glioma patients have been investigated; however, it is unknown whether microglia are capable of innate immunity and subsequent adaptive anti-tumor immune responses within the immunosuppressive tumor micro-environment of human glioma patients. We therefore undertook a novel characterization of the innate immune phenotype and function of freshly isolated human glioma-infiltrating microglia (GIM).


GIM were isolated by sequential Percoll purification from patient tumors immediately after surgical resection. Flow cytometry, phagocytosis and tumor cytotoxicity assays were used to analyze the phenotype and function of these cells.


GIM expressed significant levels of Toll-like receptors (TLRs), however they do not secrete any of the cytokines (IL-1beta, IL-6, TNF-alpha) critical in developing effective innate immune responses. Similar to innate macrophage functions, GIM can mediate phagocytosis and non-MHC restricted cytotoxicity. However, they were statistically less able to mediate tumor cytotoxicity compared to microglia isolated from normal brain. In addition, the expression of Fas ligand (FasL) was low to absent, indicating that apoptosis of the incoming lymphocyte population may not be a predominant mode of immunosuppression by microglia.


We show for the first time that despite the immunosuppressive environment of human gliomas, GIM are capable of innate immune responses such as phagocytosis, cytotoxicity and TLR expression but yet are not competent in secreting key cytokines. Further understanding of these innate immune functions could play a critical role in understanding and developing effective immunotherapies to malignant human gliomas.

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