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Microglia are ubiquitously distributed throughout the central nervous system (CNS) and play a critical role in the maintenance of neuronal homeostasis. Recent advances have shown that microglia, never resting cells of the CNS, continuously monitor and influence neuronal/synaptic activity levels, by communicating with neurons with the aid of their dynamic processes. The brainstem contains many catecholaminergic nuclei that are key to many aspects of brain function. This includes C1 neurons of the ventrolateral medulla that are thought to play a critical role in control of the circulation. Despite the role of catecholaminergic brainstem neurons in normal physiology, the presence of microglia that surrounds them is poorly understood. Here, we investigate the spatial distribution and morphology of microglia in catecholaminergic nuclei of the brainstem in 3 strains of rat: Sprague-Dawley (SD), Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) and spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). Our data reveal that microglia are heterogeneously distributed within and across different strains of rats. Interestingly, intra-strain comparison of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive (TH-ir) neuronal and microglial number reveals that microglial number varies with the TH-ir neuronal number in the brainstem. Even though microglial spatial distribution varies across brainstem nuclei, microglial morphology (% area covered, number of end point processes and branch length) does not differ significantly. This work provides the first evidence that even though microglia, in their surveilling state, do not vary appreciably in their morphology across brainstem areas, they do have a heterogeneous pattern of distribution that may be influenced by their local environment.
- Tyrosine hydroxylase