EBioMedicine, Volume 58, August 2020,
Background: Microglia, the brain's principal immune cell, are increasingly implicated in Alzheimer's disease (AD), but the molecular interfaces through which these cells contribute to amyloid beta (Aβ)-related neurodegeneration are unclear. We recently identified microglial contributions to the homeostatic and disease-associated modulation of perineuronal nets (PNNs), extracellular matrix structures that enwrap and stabilize neuronal synapses, but whether PNNs are altered in AD remains controversial. Methods: Extensive histological analysis was performed on male and female 5xFAD mice at 4, 8, 12, and 18 months of age to assess plaque burden, microgliosis, and PNNs. Findings were validated in postmortem AD tissue. The role of neuroinflammation in PNN loss was investigated via LPS treatment, and the ability to prevent or rescue disease-related reductions in PNNs was assessed by treating 5xFAD and 3xTg-AD model mice with colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF1R) inhibitor PLX5622 to deplete microglia. Findings: Utilizing the 5xFAD mouse model and human cortical tissue, we report that PNNs are extensively lost in AD in proportion to plaque burden. Activated microglia closely associate with and engulf damaged nets in the 5xFAD brain, and inclusions of PNN material are evident in mouse and human microglia, while aggrecan, a critical PNN component, deposits within human dense-core plaques. Disease-associated reductions in parvalbumin (PV)+ interneurons, frequently coated by PNNs, are preceded by PNN coverage and integrity impairments, and similar phenotypes are elicited in wild-type mice following microglial activation with LPS. Chronic pharmacological depletion of microglia prevents 5xFAD PNN loss, with similar results observed following depletion in aged 3xTg-AD mice, and this occurs despite plaque persistence. Interpretation: We conclude that phenotypically altered microglia facilitate plaque-dependent PNN loss in the AD brain. Funding: The NIH (NIA, NINDS) and the Alzheimer's Association.