Introduction: Neuropathological, genetic, and biochemical studies have provided support for the hypothesis that microglia participate in Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathogenesis. Despite the extensive characterization of AD microglia, there are still many unanswered questions, and little is known about microglial morphology in other common forms of age-related dementia: particularly, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and hippocampal sclerosis of aging (HS-Aging). In addition, no prior studies have attempted to compare and contrast the microglia morphology in the hippocampus of various neurodegenerative conditions.

Results: Here we studied cases with pathologically-confirmed AD (n = 7), HS-Aging (n = 7), AD + HS-aging (n = 4), DLB (n = 12), and normal (cognitively intact) controls (NC) (n = 9) from the University of Kentucky Alzheimer's Disease Center autopsy cohort. We defined five microglia morphological phenotypes in the autopsy samples: ramified, hypertrophic, dystrophic, rod-shaped, and amoeboid. The Aperio ScanScope digital neuropathological tool was used along with two well-known microglial markers: IBA1 (a marker for both resting and activated microglia) and CD68 (a lysosomal marker in macrophages/microglia associated with phagocytic cells). Hippocampal staining analyses included studies of subregions within the hippocampal formation and nearby white matter. Using these tools and methods, we describe variation in microglial characteristics that show some degree of disease specificity, including, (1) increased microglia density and number in HS-aging and AD + HS-aging; (2) low microglia density in DLB; (3) increased number of dystrophic microglia in HS-aging; and (4) increased proportion of dystrophic to all microglia in DLB.

Conclusions: We conclude that variations in morphologies among microglial cells, and cells of macrophage lineage, can help guide future work connecting neuroinflammatory mechanisms with specific neurodegenerative disease subtypes.

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Published in Acta Neuropathologica Communications, v. 3, 32, p. 1-16.

© Bachstetter et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Research reported in this publication was supported by National Institutes of Health under award numbers P30 AG028383, K99 AG044445.