Microglia are brain-dwelling macrophages and major parts of the neuroimmune system that broadly contribute to brain development, homeostasis, ageing and injury repair in the central nervous system (CNS). Apart from other brain macrophages, they have the ability to constantly sense changes in the brain’s microenvironment, functioning as housekeepers for neuronal well-being and providing neuroprotection in normal physiology. Microglia use a set of genes for these functions that involve proinflammatory cytokines. In response to specific stimuli, they release these proinflammatory cytokines, which can damage and kill neurons via neuroinflammation. However, alterations in microglial functioning are a common pathophysiology in age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and prion diseases, as well as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. When their sentinel or housekeeping functions are severely disrupted, they aggravate neuropathological conditions by overstimulating their defensive function and through neuroinflammation. Several pathways are involved in microglial functioning, including the Trem2
and progranulin pathways, which keep the microglial inflammatory response under control and promote clearance of injurious stimuli. Over time, an imbalance in this system leads to protective microglia becoming detrimental, initiating or exacerbating neurodegeneration. Correcting such imbalances might be a potential mode of therapeutic intervention in neurodegenerative diseases.
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