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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 9  |  Page : 1499-1502

Why microglia kill neurons after neural disorders? The friendly fire hypothesis

Laboratory of Experimental Neuroprotection and Neuroregeneration, Institute of Biological Sciences, Federal University of Pará-Brazil, Belém-Pará, Brazil

Correspondence Address:
Walace Gomes-Leal
Laboratory of Experimental Neuroprotection and Neuroregeneration, Institute of Biological Sciences, Federal University of Pará-Brazil, Belém-Pará
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Source of Support: The work was supported by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPQ)-Brazil, Banco da Amazônia and Organização não governamental (ONG) Iluminando A Vida, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1673-5374.255359

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Neuroinflammation plays a fundamental role on the pathophysiology of acute and chronic neural disorders. Microglia activation is a major event following central nervous system inflammation displaying different phenotypes with beneficial and detrimental actions (a Janus face). The reason for this apparent duality is unknown. We have previously shown that following experimental middle cerebral artery occlusion in the rat brain, microglia seem to support and impair adult neurogenesis in the same ischemic striatum. Based on these results, we raised the hypothesis that in the same pathologic environment, gradients of different ligands distributed over different anatomical niches might contribute to both detrimental and beneficial microglial phenotypes. These ligands (“danger signals”) are released by dying cells and bind to microglial receptors in their membranes. Activation of different microglial receptors induces downstream biochemical pathways culminating in a spectrum of microglial phenotypes like M1 and M2 and others. In this paper, we first review the immune functions of microglia and the role of toll-like receptors on the fight against infections. We then briefly revise the dual role of microglia after neural disorders. We then propose a novel hypothesis to explain the Janus face of microglia during the pathophysiology of central nervous system diseases: the “friendly fire hypothesis”. According to this idea “danger signals” or danger associated molecular patterns released by stressed, damaged and/or dying cells during stroke, trauma and other diseases might activate microglial pattern-recognition receptors (i.e., toll like receptors) or other unidentified receptors normally activated by pathogens. This could activate the same genetic and biochemical machinery used by microglia to fight against pathogens even in the absence of infection. According to this notion, microglia may cause bystander neuronal damage with a kind of blind “friendly fire”, fighting against a non-existing infection during non-infectious disorders, like stroke and trauma. The “friendly fire hypothesis” is a novel proposal to explain why microglia may be detrimental and beneficial after acute and chronic neural disorders and may direct future investigations for developing of neuroprotective agents.

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