Glial cells in the brain are a class of immune cell responsible for a wide range of supporting activities necessary to brain function, a great deal more than merely tackling pathogens and cleaning up metabolic waste. It is the ingestion and breaking down of metabolic waste in the brain, a process called phagocytosis, that is the focus of this open access paper, however. Neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease in this case, are largely characterized by the presence of solid deposits of misfolded or otherwise altered proteins. The capacity of glial cells to carry out phagocytosis of these protein aggregates is disrupted with advancing age, particularly by rising levels of chronic inflammation. It is suspected that this loss of function is a significant contribution to the progression of neurodegeneration. Recent studies showing that clearance of senescent glial cells produces significant benefits in animal models of neurodegeneration supports this line of thinking, but there is still much work to be accomplished in this area of study.
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