Microglial cells are of hematopoietic origin, populate the CNS during early development and form the brain's innate immune cell type. Besides their well-known role in immune defense, microglia have an active and homeostatic function in the normal CNS based on high motility of their ramified processes and endocytic clearance of apoptotic vesicular material. During development microglia contribute to the reorganization of neuronal connections, however microglia have also pivotal roles during acute and chronic neurodegeneration. Microglia become attracted to site of injury by nucleotides released from damaged neurons. Scavenger receptors expressed on microglia bind to debris and microglial phagocytic receptors signal via immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motif (ITAM) -containing adaptor proteins to promote phagocytosis of extracellular material. Insufficient clearance by microglia appears to be prevalent in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. © 2009 IBRO.
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