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Keywords:

  • antigen presentation;
  • central nervous system;
  • Toll-like receptors;
  • phagocytosis;
  • nitric oxide

Abstract

Microglia participate in all phases of the multiple sclerosis (MS) disease process. As members of the innate immune system, these cells have evolved to respond to stranger/danger signals; such a response within the central nervous system (CNS) environment has the potential to induce an acute inflammatory response. Engagement of Toll-like receptors (TLRs), a major family of pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs), provides an important mechanism whereby microglia can interact with both exogenous and endogenous ligands within the CNS. Such interactions modulate the capacity of microglia to present antigens to cells of the adaptive immune system and thus contribute to the initiation and propagation of the more sophisticated antigen-directed responses. This inflammatory response introduces the potential for bidirectional feedback between CNS resident and infiltrating systemic cells. Such interactions acquire particular relevance in the era of therapeutics for MS because the infiltrating cells can be subjected to systemic immunomodulatory therapies known to change their functional properties. Phagocytosis by microglia/macrophages is a hallmark of the MS lesion; however, the extent of tissue damage and the type of cell death will dictate subsequent innate responses. Microglia/macrophages are armed with a battery of effector molecules, such as reactive nitrogen species, that may contribute to CNS tissue injury, specifically to the injury of oligodendrocytes that is associated with MS. A therapeutic challenge is to modulate the dynamic properties of microglia/macrophages so as to limit potentially damaging innate responses, to protect the CNS from injury, and to promote local recovery. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.