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The failure of microglia to digest developmental apoptotic cells contributes to the pathology of RNASET2‐deficient leukoencephalopathy

Hamilton N, Rutherford HA, Petts JJ, Isles HM, Weber T, Henneke M, Gärtner J, Dunning M, Renshaw SA
Glia. 2020;[Epub ahead of print] doi:10.1002/glia.23829
The contribution of microglia in neurological disorders is emerging as a leading disease driver rather than a consequence of pathology. RNAseT2‐deficient leukoencephalopathy is a severe childhood white matter disorder affecting patients in their first year of life and mimicking a cytomegalovirus brain infection. The early onset and resemblance of the symptoms to a viral infection suggest an inflammatory and embryonic origin of the pathology. There are no treatments available for this disease as our understanding of the cellular drivers of the pathology are still unknown. In this study, using a zebrafish mutant for the orthologous rnaset2 gene, we have identified an inflammatory signature in early development and an antiviral immune response in mature adult brains. Using the optical transparency and the ex utero development of the zebrafish larvae we studied immune cell behavior during brain development and identified abnormal microglia as an early marker of pathology. Live imaging and electron microscopy identified that mutant microglia displayed an engorged morphology and were filled with undigested apoptotic cells and undigested substrate. Using microglia‐specific depletion and rescue experiments, we identified microglia as drivers of this embryonic phenotype and potential key cellular player in the pathology of RNAseT2‐deficient leukoencephalopathy. Our zebrafish model also presented with reduced survival and locomotor defects, therefore recapitulating many aspects of the human disease. Our study therefore placed our rnaset2 mutant at the forefront of leukodystrophy preclinical models and highlighted tissue‐specific approaches as future therapeutic avenues.
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