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Role of the brain's immune cells in clearing harmful proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases

02 November 2021

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In neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and some forms of dementia, the protein alpha-synuclein (αSyn) forms harmful aggregates in the brain. For microglia, the immune cells of the central nervous system, clearing up these clumps is a difficult, potentially damaging task, but they face the challenge by working as a team. Recent research suggests that microglia (pictured, with cell nuclei in blue) reach out to other immune cells for support, connecting to each other with tubular projections of actin filaments (in red). Once linked, they can divide the workload by moving αSyn (shown in yellow) between cells, as well as send mitochondria, organelles that act as miniature energy factories, to boost microglia in need of assistance. In cells carrying a mutation linked to Parkinson’s disease, these processes are reduced, suggesting that microglial teamwork is critical to dealing with αSyn, and offering useful insights for researchers working towards future therapies.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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