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Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Jun;174(12):1733-1749. doi: 10.1111/bph.13425. Epub 2016 Feb 26.

NADPH oxidases in oxidant production by microglia: activating receptors, pharmacology and association with disease.

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Institute of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Copenhagen University, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Pathology and Immunology, Centre Médical Universitaire, Geneva, Switzerland.
UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, University College Dublin, Ireland.


Microglia are the resident immune cells of the CNS and constitute a self-sustaining population of CNS-adapted tissue macrophages. As mononuclear phagocytic cells, they express high levels of superoxide-producing NADPH oxidases (NOX). The sole function of the members of the NOX family is to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are believed to be important in CNS host defence and in the redox signalling circuits that shape the different activation phenotypes of microglia. NOX are also important in pathological conditions, where over-generation of ROS contributes to neuronal loss via direct oxidative tissue damage or disruption of redox signalling circuits. In this review, we assess the evidence for involvement of NOX in CNS physiopathology, with particular emphasis on the most important surface receptors that lead to generation of NOX-derived ROS. We evaluate the potential significance of the subcellular distribution of NOX isoforms for redox signalling or release of ROS to the extracellular medium. Inhibitory mechanisms that have been reported to restrain NOX activity in microglia and macrophages in vivo are also discussed. We provide a critical appraisal of frequently used and recently developed NOX inhibitors. Finally, we review the recent literature on NOX and other sources of ROS that are involved in activation of the inflammasome and discuss the potential influence of microglia-derived oxidants on neurogenesis, neural differentiation and culling of surplus progenitor cells. The degree to which excessive, badly timed or misplaced NOX activation in microglia may affect neuronal homeostasis in physiological or pathological conditions certainly merits further investigation.


This article is part of a themed section on Redox Biology and Oxidative Stress in Health and Disease. To view the other articles in this section visit

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