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uni'wissen 02-2015_ENG

protein fragments accumulate until they finally form hard, insoluble plaques. “The old microglia are evidently exhausted and can no longer con- sume the fragments as well as the young ones,” explains Prinz. In addition, his team also discov- ered that microglia live as long as the person they belong to. They are already present in the yolk sac before birth and age as the person ages. “The more we understand about the scavenger cells and their function, the better our chances to develop therapies for the various diseases one day.” A study Prinz and his colleague published in the journal Nature Neuroscience in June 2015 will undoubtedly contribute to this understanding. The study investigates the extent to which the intestinal flora cooperates with the microglia. Not at all, would seem the obvious answer, due to the blood–brain barrier. It serves as a kind of filter, separating the circulating blood from the like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis. Together with colleagues from Freiburg and Israel, Prinz succeeded in demonstrating for the first time how microglia influence the degeneration of the nerve cells in patients with multiple sclerosis. “They produce certain inflammatory markers, which are actually designed to kill off bacteria. However, these markers are evidently also toxic for the nerve cells.” Prinz received the Sobek Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research in 2014 for his con- tribution to the understanding of this disorder. Old Cells are Exhausted Microglia are also suspected to play a role in psychiatric disorders like autism or schizophrenia, although there are not yet enough studies to back this suspicion up. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, there is a relatively reliable body of data. Fragments of a certain protein embed themselves between the nerve cells in the brain. In a healthy brain, the microglia fulfill their task and free the nerve cells of these fragments. In Alzheimer’s patients, however, the “The microglia show a real reaction to what happens in the intestines.” Glial cells are scavenger cells, which play an important role in immune defense reactions as part of the immune system. Illustration: Christiane Menzfeld 14