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Glia. 1988;1(5):301-7.

Functional plasticity of microglia: a review.

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Department of Neuromorphology, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Martinsried, Federal Republic of Germany.


The present review summarizes recently acquired data in vivo, which support a role of CNS microglia as a source of defense cells in the CNS capable of carrying out certain immune functions autonomously. We have kept the following discussion restricted to microglial cells and have not included work on the immunological functions of astrocytes, which has been recently reviewed elsewhere (Fontana et al.: Immunological Reviews 137:3521-3527, 1987). Resting microglia are scattered uniformly throughout the CNS forming a network of potential immunoeffector cells, which can be activated by stimuli ranging from peripheral nerve injury over viral infections to direct mechanical brain trauma. The term "activated microglia" is used here to describe proliferating cells that demonstrate changes in their immunophenotype but have not undergone transformation into brain macrophages. Such a transformation can be stimulated by neuronal death but not by sublethal neuronal injury. Microglia may function as antigen-presenting cells and may thus represent the effector cell responsible for the recruitment of lymphocytes to the brain resulting in an inflammatory reaction. The recent developments in the understanding of microglial cell function may lead to a redefinition of the often cited "immune privilege" of the brain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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