Biomedical Sciences


Overactive scavenger cells contribute to neurodegeneration

Dr. Chris Henstridge and Dr. Tara Spires-Jones (Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems) have published new findings which suggest overactive scavenger cells in the brain may contribute to neurodegeneration.

Working with researchers at the University of Zurich and the University of Pennsylvania, Dr Spires-Jones’ team has studied brain cells called microglia. Microglia are scavenger cells that monitor the function of neurons (nerve cells). They function to remove waste products in the brain, or prune excess synapses (the connections between neurons) during brain development. 

The researchers found that a lack of a protein called TDP-43 in microglia led to an increase in this scavenging activity. TDP-43 is thought to play a role in the cellular mechanisms that cause MND, because genetic mutations have been found in this gene in some people living with the condition. It is also thought to be important in Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the work is at an early stage, it suggests that microglia may perform an important role in the processes that lead to MND. If the microglia are not functioning correctly, because of a genetic mutation or the processes of normal aging, it could lead to increased scavenging activity and ultimately, the loss of synapses that could lead to neurodegeneration.


Related Links

Article in Neuron (pdf)

MND Scotland news article

Euan MacDonald Centre news article

Dr Tara Spires-Jones staff profile

Dr Chris Henstridge staff profile

Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems website