• Open Access

How chronic inflammation can affect the brain and support the development of Alzheimer's disease in old age: the role of microglia and astrocytes


Beatrix Grubeck-Loebenstein, MD, Institute for Biomedical Aging Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Rennweg 10, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria. Tel.: +43 512583919–0; fax: +43 512583919–8; e-mail: Beatrix.Grubeck-Loebenstein@oeaw.ac.at


A huge amount of evidence has implicated amyloid beta (Aβ) peptides and other derivatives of the amyloid precursor protein (βAPP) as central to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD). It is also widely recognized that age is the most important risk factor for AD and that the innate immune system plays a role in the development of neurodegeneration. Little is known, however, about the molecular mechanisms that underlie age-related changes of innate immunity and how they affect brain pathology. Aging is characteristically accompanied by a shift within innate immunity towards a pro-inflammatory status. Pro-inflammatory mediators such as tumour necrosis factor-α or interleukin-1β can then in combination with interferon-γ be toxic on neurons and affect the metabolism of βAPP such that increased concentrations of amyloidogenic peptides are produced by neuronal cells as well as by astrocytes. A disturbed balance between the production and the degradation of Aβ can trigger chronic inflammatory processes in microglial cells and astrocytes and thus initiate a vicious circle. This leads to a perpetuation of the disease.