Microglia and Sensitive Periods in Brain Development.
From embryonic neuronal migration to adolescent circuit refinement, the immune system plays an essential role throughout central nervous system (CNS) development. Immune signaling molecules serve as a common language between the immune system and CNS, allowing them to work together to modulate brain function both in health and disease. As the resident CNS macrophage, microglia comprise the majority of immune cells in the brain. Much like their peripheral counterparts, microglia survey their environment for pathology, clean up debris, and propagate inflammatory responses when necessary. Beyond this, recent studies have highlighted that microglia perform a number of complex tasks during neural development, from directing neuronal and axonal positioning to pruning synapses, receptors, and even whole cells. In this chapter, we discuss this literature within the framework that immune activation during discrete windows of neural development can profoundly impact brain function long-term, and thus the risk of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. In this chapter, we review three sensitive developmental periods - embryonic wiring, early postnatal synaptic pruning, and adolescent circuit refinement - in order to highlight the diversity of functions that microglia perform in building a brain. In reviewing this literature, it becomes obvious that timing matters, perhaps more so than the nature of the immune activation itself; largely conserved patterns of microglial response to diverse insults result in different functional impacts depending on the stage of brain maturation at the time of the challenge.
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