- C. Boucsein
- H. Kettenmann
- C. Nolte
- European Journal of Neuroscience
- Eur J Neurosci 12 (6): 2049-2058
Microglial cells serve as pathologic sensors of the brain. They are highly abundant in all regions of the central nervous system (CNS) and are characterized by a ramified morphology within the normal tissue. In the present study, we have developed a procedure to study the membrane properties of identified, in situ microglia in acutely isolated brain slices from rat cortex, striatum and facial nucleus. Unlike the well characterized cultured microglial cells, ramified microglia of the slice are characterized by little, if any, voltage-gated membrane currents and a very low membrane potential. They are thus distinct from neurons, other glial cells and nonbrain macrophages. To study the consequences of microglial activation on the membrane channel pattern, we compared cells in the normal facial nucleus and at defined times after facial nerve axotomy. Within 12 h of axotomy, microglial cells expressed a prominent inward rectifier current and thus acquired the physiological properties of cultured microglia. Within 24 h of the lesion, the cells expressed an additional outward current, which is typical for lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-activated microglia in vitro. Seven days after the lesion, at a time of major regenerative processes in the facial nucleus, the physiological properties of microglial cells had reverted to those present prior to the pathological event. In conclusion: (i) ramified microglial cells represent a physiologically unique population of cells in the brain; (ii) are distinct from their cultured counterparts; and (iii), undergo a defined pattern of physiological states in the course of pathologic events.