On patrol.  Microglia, the watchdogs of the brain and spinal cord, on the lookout in the brain.  Video: Science Visuals, Switzerland.

Microglia produce toxic substances that contribute to the inflammation of the motor nerves.   But these watch dogs of the brain and spinal cord might not be bad to their cytoskeletal  'bones', according to a study published this week.   The research team led by the University of Freiburg’s Knut Biber PhD discovered that resting microglia might actually help keep neurodegeneration in check by protecting neurons from death by glutamate (a.k.a glutamate-induced excitotoxicity).  The study focused on cultured nerve cells derived from the hippocampal region of healthy mouse brain.

Looking towards the clinic, this study suggests that quieting these angry watchdogs may be better than putting them to sleep to combat inflammation in people with ALS.  Soothing strategies currently in the pipeline include Neuraltus Pharamaceuticals' NP001.

To learn more about therapies researchers are developing to combat cytotoxic microglia in ALS, listen to our recent podcast with Methodist Neurological Institute’s Stan Appel MD, Symphony in M.


Vinet, J., van Weering, H.R., Heinrich, A., Kalin, R.E., Wegner, A., Brouwer, N., Heppner, F.L., van Rooijen, N., Boddeke, H.W. and Biber K. (2012). Neuroprotective function for ramified microglia in hippocampal excitotoxicity. Journal of Neuroinflammation 9(1), 27Abstract Full Text  

Further Reading

Appel, S.H., Beers, D.R, and Henkel, J.S. (2008). T cell-microglial dialogue in Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: are we listening? Trends In Immunology31(1), 7-17.  Abstract Full Text (Subscription Required)