Making it all work: brain-dependent immune activation in embryos
In the study, published in Journal of Neuroinflammation , the researchers worked with a unique type of rat to test the effect of microglia on cognitive function.
The study looked how the rats performed memory tasks when the immune cells were present and compared this with their performance when almost all the microglia were knocked out.
They found that removing almost all the microglia made no difference in memory tasks.
But when the microglia regenerated, this led to astounding results: researchers ran the same memory tests on the rats and they performed 25-50% better than normal rats.
Importantly, the regenerated microglia were a different shape - similar to the "activated" shape that these cells have when dealing with inflammation.
"We are still exploring what makes these cells different when they repopulate the brain, but their shape tells us they may be more active than usual, potentially making the neurons more effective to encourage better memory," Spencer, an NHMRC Career Development Fellow at RMIT, said.
"The effect doesn't last. As the microglia go back to their usual shape, memory performance also goes back to normal.
"The next stage in the research is closely investigating these regenerated microglia to better understand the mechanisms at work, with the aim of finding ways to turn the temporary memory boost into a long-lasting effect."
Microglia-suppressing therapies are currently being tested in clinical trials in the US, as potential treatments for Multiple Sclerosis.
"With our new understanding of the role of microglia in memory, it may be possible in future to test the therapies originally designed for MS and assess their potential in improving cognitive function as well," Spencer said.
Spencer is a leading researcher in the Neurodevelopment in Health and Disease program at RMIT, a multi-disciplinary research group in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences established to identify the determinants of healthy brain development, and early origins of neurological disease. Source:
RMIT University Journal reference:
De Luca, S.N, et al. (2020) Glial remodeling enhances short-term memory performance in Wistar rats. Journal of Neuroinflammation . doi.org/10.1186/s12974-020-1729-4 .
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