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Watching microglia at work

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg and the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Goettingen (Germany) have uncovered the behaviour of microglial cells in the brain. In the current online edition of Science (Science, Epub ahead of print, 14. April 2005) they report on the busy action of these immune defense cells in the normal brain and their rapid response to cerebral hemorrhage in the first few hours following injury. Their imaging approach is transferable to other models of disease, and monitoring microglia behaviour under such circumstances promises to substantially enhance our knowledge about brain pathologies.

Microglial cells are the primary immunocompetent cells in the brain. They are the first responsive element to any kind of brain damage or injury. Microglia are critically involved, for example, in neurodegenerative diseases and stroke. So far, microglial cells have been studied in vitro, i.e. outside the living organism. As a result, key aspects of microglia function have remained elusive such as their behavior in the intact brain or their immediate response to brain injury.

Now a German team of researchers from two Max Planck Institutes in Heidelberg and Goettingen (Germany) report a breakthrough in the study of microglial cells in vivo. They uncovered the behaviour of microglial cells in the intact brain by making use of two key technologies: two-photon microscopy and a transgenic mouse model. While mice employed in their experiments were genetically modified to produce a green fluorescent protein (GFP), infrared laser light was used to excite GFPs and thus to visualize stained cells in the micoscope via detection of emitted fluorescent light - even through the intact mouse skullcap. Their findings appear in this weeks online edition of Science (Epub ahead of print).

In their paper, Axel Nimmerjahn and fellow authors Frank Kirchhoff and Fritjof Helmchen provide a detailed
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Contact: Dr. Fritjof Helmchen
Fritjof.Helmchen@mpimf-heidelberg.mpg.de
49-622-148-6467
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
15-Apr-2005


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