Purdue University Graduate School
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Characterizing Microglial Response to Amyloid: From New Tools to New Molecules

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posted on 2021-04-29, 20:03 authored by Priya PrakashPriya Prakash

Microglia are a population of specialized, tissue-resident immune cells that make up around 10% of total cells in our brain. They actively prune neuronal synapses, engulf cellular debris, and misfolded protein aggregates such as the Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)-associated amyloid-beta (Aβ) by the process of phagocytosis. During AD, microglia are unable to phagocytose Aβ, perhaps due to the several disease-associated changes affecting their normal function. Functional molecules such as lipids and metabolites also influence microglial behavior but have primarily remained uncharacterized to date. The overarching question of this work is, How do microglia become dysfunctional in chronic inflammation? To this end, we developed new chemical tools to better understand and investigate the microglial response to Aβ in vitro and in vivo. Specifically, we introduce three new tools. (1) Recombinant human Aβ was developed via a rapid, refined, and robust method for expressing, purifying, and characterizing the protein. (2) A pH-sensitive fluorophore conjugate of Aβ (called AβpH) was developed to identify and separate Aβ-specific phagocytic and non-phagocytic glial cells ex vivo and in vivo. (3) New lysosomal, mitochondrial, and nuclei-targeting pH-activable fluorescent probes (called LysoShine, MitoShine, and NucShine, respectively) to visualize subcellular organelles in live microglia. Next, we asked, What changes occur to the global lipid and metabolite profiles of microglia in the presence of Aβ in vitro and in vivo? We screened 1500 lipids comprising 10 lipid classes and 700 metabolites in microglia exposed to Aβ. We found significant changes in specific lipid classes with acute and prolonged Aβ exposure. We also identified a lipid-related protein that was differentially regulated due to Aβ in vivo. This new lipid reprogramming mechanism “turned on” in the presence of cellular stress was also present in microglia in the brains of the 5xFAD mouse model, suggesting a generic response to inflammation and toxicity. It is well known that activated microglia induce reactive astrocytes during inflammation. Therefore, we asked, What changes in proteins, lipids, and metabolites occur in astrocytes due to their reactive state? We provide a comprehensive characterization of reactive astrocytes comprising 3660 proteins, 1500 lipids, and 700 metabolites. These microglia and astrocytes datasets will be available to the scientific community as a web application. We propose a final model wherein the molecules secreted by reactive astrocytes may also induce lipid-related changes to the microglial cell state in inflammation. In conclusion, this thesis highlights chemical neuroimmunology as the new frontier of neuroscience propelled by the development of new chemical tools and techniques to characterize glial cell states and function in neurodegeneration.


Elucidating Microglial Immune Regulation Targets to Remove Protein Aggregates in TBI

Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs

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Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences

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Purdue Research Foundation Award

National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) ASPIRE Design Challenge Award


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Gaurav Chopra

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Kavita Shah

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Bruce T. Lamb

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Jean-Christophe (Chris) Rochet