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Increased Expression of Translocator Protein (TSPO) Marks Pro-inflammatory Microglia but Does Not Predict Neurodegeneration.


Activation of the innate immune system plays a significant role in pathologies of the central nervous system (CNS). In order to follow disease progression and evaluate effectiveness of potential treatments involved in neuroinflammation, it is important to track neuroinflammatory markers in vivo longitudinally. The translocator protein (TSPO) is used as a target to image neuroinflammation as its expression is upregulated in reactive glial cells during CNS pathologies. However, it remains unclear in which microglial phenotypes TSPO levels are upregulated, as microglia can display a plethora of activation states that can be protective or detrimental to the CNS.We assessed the levels of TSPO transcripts in cultured microglia that were polarized into pro- and anti-inflammatory states in vitro and in the brain of mice in which an anti-inflammatory environment was induced in vivo. In addition, we used a mouse model of peroxisomal multifunctional protein-2 (MFP2) deficiency that exhibits widespread neuroinflammation despite no neuronal loss and monitored TSPO expression by immunohistochemistry and by imaging using the TSPO radiotracer [(18)F]DPA-714.TSPO expression was selectively increased in so-called classically activated or M1 microglia but not in alternatively activated or M2 microglia in vitro. In agreement, TSPO transcript levels were not induced in an anti-inflammatory brain environment. We found that both transcript and protein levels of TSPO are significantly increased in the brain of Mfp2 (-/-) compared to those of the control mice and TSPO immunoreactivity colocalized predominantly with microglia in Mfp2 (-/-) brain. In vitro and ex vivo autoradiography in Mfp2 (-/-) mice using the TSPO radiotracer [(18)F]DPA-714 confirmed increased expression of TSPO. These data demonstrate that TSPO imaging reveals microgliosis in non-neurodegenerative brain pathologies.We show that induced TSPO expression marks a pro-inflammatory brain environment that is not necessarily accompanied by neuronal loss.