Microglial activation mediates host neuronal survival induced by neural stem cells

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The rational of neural stem cells (NSCs) in the therapy of neurological disease is either to replace dead neurons or to improve host neuronal survival, the latter of which has got less attention and the underlying mechanism is as yet little known. Using a transwell co-culture system, we reported that, in organotypic brain slice cultures, NSCs significantly improved host neuronal viability. Interestingly, this beneficial effect of NSCs was abrogated by a microglial inhibitor minocycline, while it was mimicked by a microglial agonist, Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) ligand CpG-ODN, which supports the pro-vital mediation by microglia on this NSCs-improved neuronal survival. Moreover, we showed that NSCs significantly induced host microglial movement and higher expression of a microglial marker IBA-1, the latter of which was positively correlated with TLR9 or extracellular-regulated protein kinases 1/2 (ERK1/2) activation. Real-time PCR revealed that NSCs inhibited the expression of pro-inflammatory molecules, but significantly increased the expression of molecules associated with a neuroprotective phenotype such as CX3CR1, triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells-2 (TREM2) and insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Similarly, in the microglia cells, NSCs induced the same microglial response as that in the slices. Further treatment with TLR9 ligand CpG-ODN, TLR9 inhibitor chloroquine (CQ) or ERK1/2 inhibitor U0126 demonstrated that TLR9-ERK1/2 pathway was involved in the NSCs-induced microglial activation. Collectively, this study indicated that NSCs improve host neuronal survival by switching microglia from a detrimental to a neuroprotective phenotype in adult mouse brain, and the microglial TLR9-ERK1/2 pathway seems to participate in this NSCs-mediated rescue action.

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