, Volume 128, Issue 3, pp 363-380,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 09 Aug 2014

The role of microglia in human disease: therapeutic tool or target?

Abstract

Microglia have long been the focus of much attention due to their strong proliferative response (microgliosis) to essentially any kind of damage to the CNS. More recently, we reached the realization that these cells play specific roles in determining progression and outcomes of essentially all CNS disease. Thus, microglia has ceased to be viewed as an accessory to underlying pathologies and has now taken center stage as a therapeutic target. Here, we review how our understanding of microglia’s involvement in promoting or limiting the pathogenesis of diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) and lysosomal storage diseases (LSD) has changed over time. While strategies to suppress the deleterious and promote the virtuous functions of microglia will undoubtedly be forthcoming, replacement of these cells has already proven its usefulness in a clinical setting. Over the past few years, we have reached the realization that microglia have a developmental origin that is distinct from that of bone marrow-derived myelomonocytic cells. Nevertheless, microglia can be replaced, in specific situations, by the progeny of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), pointing to a strategy to engineer the CNS environment through the transplantation of modified HSCs. Thus, microglia replacement has been successfully exploited to deliver therapeutics to the CNS in human diseases such as X-ALD and LSD. With this outlook in mind, we will discuss the evidence existing so far for microglial involvement in the pathogenesis and the therapy of specific CNS disease.