Division of Glia Disease and Therapeutics, Center for Translational Neuromedicine, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Rochester Medical Center, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Rochester, New York 14642, USA; Center for Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, Department of Anatomy, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1137 Blindern, N-0318, Oslo, Norway; Center for Molecular Medicine Norway, Nordic EMBL Partnership, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1137 Blindern, N-0318, Oslo, Norway.
Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a potentially fatal complication of acute liver failure, associated with severe neurological dysfunction and coma. The brain's innate immune cells, microglia, have recently been implicated in the pathophysiology of HE. To date, however, only ex vivo studies have been used to characterize microglial involvement. Our study uses in vivo two-photon imaging of awake behaving mice expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) under the Cx3cr1 promoter to examine microglial involvement in two different models of encephalopathy - a slower, fatal model of azoxymethane-induced HE and a rapid, reversible acute hyperammonemic encephalopathy (AHE) induced by an ammonia load. To investigate the potential contribution of microglia to the neurological deterioration seen in these two models, we developed a software to analyze microglial activation and motility in vivo. In HE, we found that microglia do not become activated prior to the onset of neurological dysfunction, but undergo activation with mildly impaired motility during the terminal stage IV. We demonstrate that this microglial activation coincides with blood-brain barrier (BBB) opening and brain edema. Conversely, both microglial activation and motility are unchanged during AHE, despite the mice developing pathologically increased plasma ammonia and severe neurological dysfunction. Our study indicates that microglial activation does not contribute to the early neurological deterioration observed in either HE or AHE. The late microglial activation in HE may therefore be associated with terminal BBB opening and brain edema, thus exacerbating the progression to coma and increasing mortality.