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J Neurosci. 2008 Jun 4;28(23):5965-75. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0060-08.2008.

Microglia cells protect neurons by direct engulfment of invading neutrophil granulocytes: a new mechanism of CNS immune privilege.

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Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Project Group Neuropharmacology, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, 39118 Magdeburg, Germany.


Microglial cells maintain the immunological integrity of the healthy brain and can exert protection from traumatic injury. During ischemic tissue damage such as stroke, peripheral immune cells acutely infiltrate the brain and may exacerbate neurodegeneration. Whether and how microglia can protect from this insult is unknown. Polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) are a prominent immunologic infiltrate of ischemic lesions in vivo. Here, we show in organotypic brain slices that externally applied invading PMNs massively enhance ischemic neurotoxicity. This, however, is counteracted by additional application of microglia. Time-lapse imaging shows that microglia exert protection by rapid engulfment of apoptotic, but, strikingly, also viable, motile PMNs in cell culture and within brain slices. PMN engulfment is mediated by integrin- and lectin-based recognition. Interference with this process using RGDS peptides and N-acetyl-glucosamine blocks engulfment of PMNs and completely abrogates the neuroprotective function of microglia. Thus, engulfment of invading PMNs by microglia may represent an entirely new mechanism of CNS immune privilege.

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