Neuroinflammation, Mast Cells, and Glia: Dangerous Liaisons

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Abstract

The perspective of neuroinflammation as an epiphenomenon following neuron damage is being replaced by the awareness of glia and their importance in neural functions and disorders. Systemic inflammation generates signals that communicate with the brain and leads to changes in metabolism and behavior, with microglia assuming a pro-inflammatory phenotype. Identification of potential peripheral-to-central cellular links is thus a critical step in designing effective therapeutics. Mast cells may fulfill such a role. These resident immune cells are found close to and within peripheral nerves and in brain parenchyma/meninges, where they exercise a key role in orchestrating the inflammatory process from initiation through chronic activation. Mast cells and glia engage in crosstalk that contributes to accelerate disease progression; such interactions become exaggerated with aging and increased cell sensitivity to stress. Emerging evidence for oligodendrocytes, independent of myelin and support of axonal integrity, points to their having strong immune functions, innate immune receptor expression, and production/response to chemokines and cytokines that modulate immune responses in the central nervous system while engaging in crosstalk with microglia and astrocytes. In this review, we summarize the findings related to our understanding of the biology and cellular signaling mechanisms of neuroinflammation, with emphasis on mast cell-glia interactions.

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