Within our brain and spinal cord specialised cells called microglia (tagged in green) are hard at work, scavenging for damaged neurons [nerve cells] and gobbling up potentially deadly microorganisms. In their resting form microglia extend tentacle-like branches to monitor the surrounding brain cells (nuclei coloured red). When activated they morph into amoeboid blobs which can quickly move to sites of inflammation [the body’s attempt to protect tissue threatened by injury or invasion] to digest damaged tissue. Inflammation and activated microglia are seen in the nervous system of people with conditions like psychosis and schizophrenia. Researchers are currently trying to discover if there’s a link between microglia and the disease symptoms, and whether anti-psychotic medications affect these cells. Tagging activated microglia with radioactive tracers to highlight areas of neuroinflammation on a brain scan, could one day enable earlier, more conclusive diagnosis leading to better treatment for these diseases.
Written by Sarah McLusky
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