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The Emerging Role Of The Interplay Among Astrocytes, Microglia, And Neurons In The Hippocampus In Health And Disease

Daniele Lana, Filippo Ugolini, Daniele Nosi, Gary L. Wenk, Maria Grazia Giovannini

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For over a century, neurons have been considered the basic functional units of the brain while glia only elements of support. Activation of glia has been long regarded detrimental for survival of neurons but more it appears that this is not the case in all circumstances. In this review, we report and discuss the recent literature on the alterations of astrocytes and microglia during inflammaging, the low-grade, slow, chronic inflammatory response that characterizes normal brain aging, and in acute inflammation. Becoming reactive, astrocytes and microglia undergo transcriptional, functional, and morphological changes that transform them into cells with different properties and functions, such as A1 and A2 astrocytes, and M1 and M2 microglia. This classification of microglia and astrocytes in two different, all-or-none states seems too simplistic, and does not correspond to the diverse variety of phenotypes so far found in the brain. Different interactions occur among the many cell populations of the central nervous system in health and disease conditions. Such interactions give rise to networks of morphological and functional reciprocal reliance and dependency. Alterations affecting one cell population reverberate to the others, favoring or dysregulating their activities. In the last part of this review, we present the modifications of the interplay between neurons and glia in rat models of brain aging and acute inflammation, focusing on the differences between CA1 and CA3 areas of the hippocampus, one of the brain regions most susceptible to different insults. With triple labeling fluorescent immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy (TIC), it is possible to evaluate and compare quantitatively the morphological and functional alterations of the components of the neuron-astrocyte-microglia triad. In the contiguous and interconnected regions of rat hippocampus, CA1 and CA3 Stratum Radiatum, astrocytes and microglia show a different, finely regulated, and region-specific reactivity, demonstrating that glia responses vary in a significant manner from area to area. It will be of great interest to verify whether these differential reactivities of glia explain the diverse vulnerability of the hippocampal areas to aging or to different damaging insults, and particularly the higher sensitivity of CA1 pyramidal neurons to inflammatory stimuli.