Summary: A new study reveals the role microglia plays in helping to protect the brain against prion infection.
Prion diseases are slow degenerative brain diseases that occur in people and various other mammals. No vaccines or treatments are available, and these diseases are almost always fatal. Scientists have found little evidence of a protective immune response to prion infections. Further, microglia–brain cells usually involved in the first level of host defense against infections of the brain–have been thought to worsen these diseases by secreting toxic molecules that can damage nerve cells.
Now, scientists have used an experimental drug, PLX5622, to test the role of microglia against scrapie, a prion disease of sheep. PLX5622 rapidly kills most of the microglia in the brain. When researchers gave the drug to mice infected with scrapie, microglia were eliminated and the mice died one month faster than did untreated mice. The results, published in the Journal of Virology by researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, suggest that microglia can defend against a prion infection and thus slow the course of disease. The scientists hypothesize that microglia trap and destroy the aggregated prion proteins that cause brain damage.
The findings suggest that drugs that increase the helpful activity of microglia may have a role in slowing the progression of prion diseases. Researchers are now studying the details of how microglia may be able to destroy prions in the brain. The scientists note that microglia could have a similar beneficial effect on other neurodegenerative diseases associated with protein aggregation, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Funding: This research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Source: Ken Pekoc – NIH/NIAID
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to NIAID.
Original Research: Abstract for “Microglia Are Critical in Host Defense Against Prion Disease” by James A. Carroll, Brent Race, Katie Williams, James Striebel and Bruce Chesebro in Journal of Virology. Published May 16 2018.
Microglia Are Critical in Host Defense Against Prion Disease
Microglial cells in the central nervous system play important roles in neurodevelopment and resistance to infection, yet microglia can become neurotoxic under some conditions. An early event during prion infection is the activation of microglia and astrocytes in the brain prior to damage or death of neurons. Previous prion disease studies using two different strategies to manipulate signaling through the microglial receptor CSF-1R reported contrary effects on survival from prion disease. However, in these studies, reduction of microglial numbers and function were variable, thus confounding interpretation of the results. In the present work, we used oral treatment with a potent inhibitor of CSF-1R, PLX5622, to eliminate 78 to 90% of microglia from cortex shortly after and during the course of prion infection. Oral drug treatment early after infection with the RML scrapie strain significantly accelerated vacuolation, astrogliosis and deposition of disease-associated prion protein. Furthermore, drug-treated mice had advanced clinical disease requiring euthanasia 31 days earlier than untreated control mice. Similarly, PLX5622 treatment during the preclinical phase at 80 days post-infection with RML scrapie also accelerated disease and resulted in euthanasia of mice 33 days earlier than infected controls. PLX5622 also accelerated clinical disease after infection with scrapie strains ME7 and 22L. Thus, microglia are critical in host defense during prion disease. The early accumulation of PrPSc in the absence of microglia suggested that microglia may function by clearing PrPSc resulting in longer survival.
IMPORTANCE Microglia contribute to many aspects of health and disease. When activated, microglia can be beneficial by repairing damage in the CNS or they can turn harmful by becoming neurotoxic. In prion and prion-like diseases, the involvement of microglia in disease is unclear. Previous studies suggest that microglia can either speed up or slow down disease. In this study, we infected mice with prions and depleted microglia from the brains of mice using PLX5622, an effective CSF-1R tyrosine kinase inhibitor. Microglia were markedly reduced in brains, and prion disease was accelerated, so that mice needed to be euthanized 20 to 33 days earlier than infected control mice due to advanced clinical disease. Similar results occurred when mice were treated with PLX5622 at 80 days after infection, which was just prior to the start of clinical signs. Thus, microglia are important for removing prions, and the disease is faster when microglia are depleted.