Microglia are highly active and vigilant housekeepers of the central nervous system that function to promote neuronal growth and activity. With advanced age, however, dysregulated inflammatory signaling and defects in phagocytosis impede their ability to perform the most essential of homeostatic functions, including immune surveillance and debris clearance. Microglial activation is one of the hallmarks of the aging brain and coincides with age-related neurodegeneration and cognitive decline. Age-associated microglial dysfunction leads to cellular senescence and can profoundly alter the response to sterile injuries and immune diseases, often resulting in maladaptive responses, chronic inflammation, and worsened outcomes after injury. Our knowledge of microglia aging and the factors that regulate age-related microglial dysfunction remain limited, as the majority of pre-clinical studies are performed in young animals, and human brain samples are difficult to obtain quickly post-mortem or in large numbers. This review outlines the impact of normal aging on microglial function, highlights the potential mechanisms underlying age-related changes in microglia, and discusses how aging can shape the recovery process following injury.
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