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An early enriched experience drives targeted microglial engulfment of miswired neural circuitry during a restricted postnatal period.

Glia 2024 March 22
Brain function is critically dependent on correct circuit assembly. Microglia are well-known for their important roles in immunological defense and neural plasticity, but whether they can also mediate experience-induced correction of miswired circuitry is unclear. Ten-m3 knockout (KO) mice display a pronounced and stereotyped visuotopic mismapping of ipsilateral retinal inputs in their visual thalamus, providing a useful model to probe circuit correction mechanisms. Environmental enrichment (EE) commenced around birth, but not later in life, can drive a partial correction of the most mismapped retinal inputs in Ten-m3 KO mice. Here, we assess whether enrichment unlocks the capacity for microglia to selectively engulf and remove miswired circuitry, and the timing of this effect. Expression of the microglial-associated lysosomal protein CD68 showed a clear enrichment-driven, spatially restricted change which had not commenced at postnatal day (P)18, was evident at P21, more robust at P25, and had ceased by P30. This was observed specifically at the corrective pruning site and was absent at a control site. An engulfment assay at the corrective pruning site in P25 mice showed EE-driven microglial-uptake of the mismapped axon terminals. This was temporally and spatially specific, as no enrichment-driven microglial engulfment was seen in P18 KO mice, nor the control locus. The timecourse of the EE-driven corrective pruning as determined anatomically, aligned with this pattern of microglia reactivity and engulfment. Collectively, these findings show experience can drive targeted microglial engulfment of miswired neural circuitry during a restricted postnatal window. This may have important therapeutic implications for neurodevelopmental conditions involving aberrant neural connectivity.

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