Viscoelastic properties of white and gray matter-derived microglia differentiate upon treatment with lipopolysaccharide but not upon treatment with myelin

Thecla A. van Wageningen, Nelda Antonovaite, Erik Paardekam, John J.P. Brevé, Davide Iannuzzi, Anne Marie van Dam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The biomechanical properties of the brain have increasingly been shown to relate to brain pathology in neurological diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS). Inflammation and demyelination in MS induce significant changes in brain stiffness which can be linked to the relative abundance of glial cells in lesions. We hypothesize that the biomechanical, in addition to biochemical, properties of white (WM) and gray matter (GM)-derived microglia may contribute to the differential microglial phenotypes as seen in MS WM and GM lesions. Methods: Primary glial cultures from WM or GM of rat adult brains were treated with either lipopolysaccharide (LPS), myelin, or myelin+LPS for 24 h or left untreated as a control. After treatment, microglial cells were indented using dynamic indentation to determine the storage and loss moduli reflecting cell elasticity and cell viscosity, respectively, and subsequently fixed for immunocytochemical analysis. In parallel, gene expression of inflammatory-related genes were measured using semi-quantitative RT-PCR. Finally, phagocytosis of myelin was determined as well as F-actin visualized to study the cytoskeletal changes. Results: WM-derived microglia were significantly more elastic and more viscous than microglia derived from GM. This heterogeneity in microglia biomechanical properties was also apparent when treated with LPS when WM-derived microglia decreased cell elasticity and viscosity, and GM-derived microglia increased elasticity and viscosity. The increase in elasticity and viscosity observed in GM-derived microglia was accompanied by an increase in Tnfα mRNA and reorganization of F-actin which was absent in WM-derived microglia. In contrast, when treated with myelin, both WM- and GM-derived microglia phagocytose myelin decrease their elasticity and viscosity. Conclusions: In demyelinating conditions, when myelin debris is phagocytized, as in MS lesions, it is likely that the observed differences in WM- versus GM-derived microglia biomechanics are mainly due to a difference in response to inflammation, rather than to the event of demyelination itself. Thus, the differential biomechanical properties of WM and GM microglia may add to their differential biochemical properties which depend on inflammation present in WM and GM lesions of MS patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number83
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Early online date27 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme615170


    • Biomechanics
    • Gray matter
    • Indentation
    • Microglia
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • White matter


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