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Role of inflammation in neurodegenerative diseases

Minghetti, Luisa

Current Opinion in Neurology: June 2005 - Volume 18 - Issue 3 - p 315–321
doi: 10.1097/01.wco.0000169752.54191.97
Inflammatory diseases and infection

Purpose of review Inflammation is a self-defensive reaction aimed at eliminating or neutralizing injurious stimuli, and restoring tissue integrity. In neurodegenerative diseases inflammation occurs as a local response driven by microglia, in the absence of leucocyte infiltration. Like peripheral inflammation, neuroinflammation may become a harmful process, and it is now widely accepted that it may contribute to the pathogenesis of many central nervous system disorders, including chronic neurodegenerative diseases. This review addresses some of the most recent advances in our understanding of neuroinflammation.

Recent findings The presence of activated microglia surrounding amyloid plaques and increased levels of complement elements, cytokines, chemokines and free radicals support the existence of a self-propagating toxic cycle and provide a rationale for anti-inflammatory approaches to prevent or delay neurodegeneration. Nonetheless, recent studies have provided evidence that chronic stimulation leads microglia to acquire an anti-inflammatory phenotype, characterized by activated morphology and induction of neuroprotective and immunoregulatory molecules. The causes and consequences of this atypical phenotype have just begun to be unravelled.

Summary Although significant advances have been made in our knowledge of degenerative diseases, there remains controversy regarding whether neuroinflammation and microglial activation are beneficial or detrimental. Strategies aimed at both preventing and boosting microglial activation are presently under investigation, and these studies might reveal new potentially effective treatments for these neurological disorders.

Department of Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy

Correspondence to Luisa Minghetti, Department of Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, 00161 Rome, Italy Tel: +39 06 49903153; fax: +39 06 4957821; e-mail: luisa.minghetti@iss.it

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.