Cleveland Clinic researchers report that microglia can help synchronize brain firing, protecting the brain from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and may also slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

A news release issued by Cleveland Clinic notes that the research team was led by Bruce Trapp, PhD, chair of the Department of Neurosciences at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute. Trapp explains that the study’s findings suggest the innate immune system assists in protecting the brain postinjury or during chronic disease, adding that this newly discovered role calls for further study.

“We could potentially harness the protective role of microglia to improve prognosis for patients with TBI and delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, MS, and stroke. The methods we developed will help us further understand mechanisms of neuroprotection,” Trapp says.

The release notes that while researchers have long believed that activated microglia cause harmful inflammation that destroys healthy brain cells, some also point to a more protective role. During the study, Trapp’s team used 3D electron microscopy to visualize the activation of microglia and subsequent events in animal models.

The researchers observed that once chemically activated, microglia migrate to inhibitory synapses. They then dislodge the synapse and increase neuronal firing, leading to a cascade of events that enhance survival of brain cells.

[Source(s): Cleveland Clinic, The Lerner Research Institute (LRI)]