Review shows pharmaceutical therapies targeting microglia are on the rise

Even with modern medicine, treating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and major depression remains a challenging feat. One reason is that as we learn more about these brain disorders, the more we realize that multiple brain cells and signaling cascades are often affected at the same time.

One cell population, however, seems to be a hub of profound changes across diseases and disorders in the brain. Known as microglia, these are the resident immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS), though they do more than just defend against threats. Microglia also help with the development and function of other brain components, including neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes, and they support our synapses. Due to their broad functions, microglial cells are the target of many pharmacological therapies for disease prevention, diagnosis, and resolution.

In their newly published review in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, Eva Šimončičovà and Elisa Gonçalves de Andrade (Tremblay Lab) examine the changes in research for pharmaceutical therapies targeting microglia and discuss what the future holds for this field.


While broadly inhibiting brain inflammation (to which microglia are considered major contributors) seemed like an effective approach to treat the symptoms of numerous CNS diseases in the past, the co-authors found that the picture is more complex these days. Research increasingly shows the microglial population is comprised of diverse cellular states and subtypes that may vary in their gene expression profile, metabolism, and functions. This diversity could mean microglia play both positive and negative roles across pathological conditions, and pharmaceutical therapies could selectively target these differences to prevent or treat CNS diseases.

Along with summarizing the current areas of opportunity for these therapies, Šimončičovà and Gonçalves de Andrade also emphasize in their review the need to strive for a greater specificity to advance the efficacy of such microglial treatments.