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Chronically activated microglia in ALS gradually lose their immune functions and develop unconventional proteome.

Glia 2024 April 6
Neuroinflammation and chronic activation of microglial cells are the prominent features of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) pathology. While alterations in the mRNA profile of diseased microglia have been well documented, the actual microglia proteome remains poorly characterized. Here we performed a functional characterization together with proteome analyses of microglial cells at different stages of disease in the SOD1-G93A model of ALS. Functional analyses of microglia derived from the lumbar spinal cord of symptomatic mice revealed: (i) remarkably high mitotic index (close to 100% cells are Ki67+) (ii) significant decrease in phagocytic capacity when compared to age-matched control microglia, and (iii) diminished response to innate immune challenges in vitro and in vivo. Proteome analysis revealed a development of two distinct molecular signatures at early and advanced stages of disease. While at early stages of disease, we identified several proteins implicated in microglia immune functions such as GPNMB, HMBOX1, at advanced stages of disease microglia signature at protein level was characterized with a robust upregulation of several unconventional proteins including rootletin, major vaults proteins and STK38. Upregulation of GPNMB and rootletin has been also found in the spinal cord samples of sporadic ALS. Remarkably, the top biological functions of microglia, in particular in the advanced disease, were not related to immunity/immune response, but were highly enriched in terms linked to RNA metabolism. Together, our results suggest that, over the course of disease, chronically activated microglia develop unconventional protein signatures and gradually lose their immune identity ultimately turning into functionally inefficient immune cells.

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