Microglia play a pivotal role in the maintenance of brain homeostasis but lose homeostatic function during neurodegenerative disorders. We identified a specific apolipoprotein E (APOE)-dependent molecular signature in microglia from models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), and Alzheimer's disease (AD) and in microglia surrounding neuritic β-amyloid (Aβ)-plaques in the brains of people with AD. The APOE pathway mediated a switch from a homeostatic to a neurodegenerative microglia phenotype after phagocytosis of apoptotic neurons. TREM2 (triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2) induced APOE signaling, and targeting the TREM2-APOE pathway restored the homeostatic signature of microglia in ALS and AD mouse models and prevented neuronal loss in an acute model of neurodegeneration. APOE-mediated neurodegenerative microglia had lost their tolerogenic function. Our work identifies the TREM2-APOE pathway as a major regulator of microglial functional phenotype in neurodegenerative diseases and serves as a novel target that could aid in the restoration of homeostatic microglia. Microglia change their phenotype and function during aging and neurodegeneration, but the underlying molecular mechanisms for this change remain unknown. Krasemann et al. identify the TREM2-APOE pathway as a major regulator of microglia phenotypic change in neurodegenerative diseases and suggest that targeting this pathway could restore homeostatic microglia.
- Alzheimer's disease
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- multiple sclerosis
- transcriptional regulation