TSPO (18 kDa translocator protein) was identified decades ago in a search for peripheral tissue binding sites for benzodiazepines, and was formerly called the peripheral benzodiazepine receptor. TSPO is a conserved protein throughout evolution and it is implicated in the regulation of many cellular processes, including inflammatory responses, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial homeostasis. TSPO, apart from its broad expression in peripheral tissues, is highly expressed in neuroinflammatory cells, such as activated microglia. In addition, emerging studies employing the ligands of TSPO suggest that TSPO plays an important role in neuropathological settings as a biomarker and therapeutic target. However, the precise molecular function of this protein in normal physiology and neuropathology remains enigmatic. This review provides an overview of recent advances in our understanding of this multifaceted molecule and identifies the knowledge gap in the field for future functional studies.
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