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Semin Immunopathol. 2013 Sep;35(5):601-12. doi: 10.1007/s00281-013-0382-8. Epub 2013 Jun 4.

Microglia and macrophages of the central nervous system: the contribution of microglia priming and systemic inflammation to chronic neurodegeneration.

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Centre for Biological Sciences, Southampton General Hospital, University of Southampton, Mail Point 840, LD80B, South Lab and Path Block, SO16 6YD Southampton, UK.


Microglia, the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS), play an important role in CNS homeostasis during development, adulthood and ageing. Their phenotype and function have been widely studied, but most studies have focused on their local interactions in the CNS. Microglia are derived from a particular developmental niche, are long-lived, locally replaced and form a significant part of the communication route between the peripheral immune system and the CNS; all these components of microglia biology contribute to maintaining homeostasis. Microglia function is tightly regulated by the CNS microenvironment, and increasing evidence suggests that disturbances, such as neurodegeneration and ageing, can have profound consequences for microglial phenotype and function. We describe the possible biological mechanisms underlying the altered threshold for microglial activation, also known as 'microglial priming', seen in CNS disease and ageing and consider how priming may contribute to turning immune-to-brain communication from a homeostatic pathway into a maladaptive response that contributes to symptoms and progression of diseases of the CNS.

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