Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Flaming Brain

Distinguishing two of the brain's support cells – microglia and macrophages – to better understand their roles

03 October 2020

Flaming Brain

Every day, tiny immune cells called microglia and macrophages are hard at work in your brain keeping everything neat and tidy. They’re responsible for cleaning up biological waste, removing dead or unwanted cells and getting rid of invading bacteria and viruses. Because these cells are very similar, yet have slightly different specific roles, it’s hard to tease out exactly what each cell type is up to as the brain develops in the womb or during situations where there is a lot of immune activity (inflammation) such as injury or infection. In search of clarity, researchers have created genetically engineered mice carrying markers that make it easy to distinguish microglia from macrophages. These images show how the technique can be used to highlight macrophages using two different markers (rows) in three different parts of the brain (columns), enabling researchers to spy on what these cells are doing during development or inflammation.

Written by Kat Arney

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