Flow Cytometry Approach to Characterize Phagocytic Properties of Acutely-Isolated Adult Microglia and Brain Macrophages In Vitro

Supriya Ramesha1, Sruti Rayaprolu1, Srikant Rangaraju1
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Microglia and central nervous system (CNS)-infiltrating macrophages, collectively called CNS mononuclear phagocytes (CNS-MPs), play central roles in neurological diseases including neurodegeneration and stroke. CNS-MPs are involved in phagocytic clearance of pathological proteins, debris and neuronal synapses, each with distinct underlying molecular pathways. Characterizing these phagocytic properties can provide a functional readout that compliments molecular profiling of microglia using traditional flow cytometry, transcriptomics and proteomics approaches. Phagocytic profiling of microglia has relied on microscopic visualization and in vitro cultures of mouse neonatal microglia. The former approach suffers from limited sampling while the latter approach is inherently poorly reflective of the true in vivo state of adult CNS-MPs. This paper describes optimized protocols to phenotype phagocytic properties of acutely-isolated mouse CNS-MPs by flow cytometry. CNS-MPs are acutely isolated from adult mouse brain using mechanical dissociation followed by density gradient centrifugation, incubated with fluorescent microspheres or fluorescent Aβ fibrils, washed, and then labeled with panels of antibodies against surface markers (CD11b, CD45). Using this approach, it is possible to compare phagocytic properties of brain-resident microglia with CNS-infiltrating macrophages and then assess the effect of aging and disease pathology on these phagocytic phenotypes. This rapid method also holds potential to functionally phenotype acutely-isolated human CNS-MPs from post-mortem or surgical brain specimens. Additionally, specific mechanisms of phagocytosis by CNS-MP subsets can be investigated by inhibiting select phagocytic pathways.