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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Microglial cells in astroglial cultures: a cautionary note

Josep Saura

Author Affiliations

Department of Cerebral Ischaemia and Neurodegeneration, Institute for Biomedical Research of Barcelona (IIBB), CSIC, IDIBAPS. 08036-Barcelona, Spain

Journal of Neuroinflammation 2007, 4:26  doi:10.1186/1742-2094-4-26

Published: 15 October 2007

Abstract

Primary rodent astroglial-enriched cultures are the most popular model to study astroglial biology in vitro. From the original methods described in the 1970's a great number of minor modifications have been incorporated into these protocols by different laboratories. These protocols result in cultures in which the astrocyte is the predominant cell type, but astrocytes are never 100% of cells in these preparations. The aim of this review is to bring attention to the presence of microglia in astroglial cultures because, in my opinion, the proportion of and the role that microglial cells play in astroglial cultures are often underestimated. The main problem with ignoring microglia in these cultures is that relatively minor amounts of microglia can be responsible for effects observed on cultures in which the astrocyte is the most abundant cell type. If the relative contributions of astrocytes and microglia are not properly assessed an observed effect can be erroneously attributed to the astrocytes. In order to illustrate this point the case of NO production in activated astroglial-enriched cultures is examined. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induces nitric oxide (NO) production in astroglial-enriched cultures and this effect is very often attributed to astrocytes. However, a careful review of the published data suggests that LPS-induced NO production in rodent astroglial-enriched cultures is likely to be mainly microglial in origin. This review considers cell culture protocol factors that can affect the proportion of microglial cells in astroglial cultures, strategies to minimize the proportion of microglia in these cultures, and specific markers that allow the determination of such microglial proportions.