Rod microglia: Elongation, alignment, and coupling to form trains across the somatosensory cortex after experimental diffuse brain injury

Jenna M. Ziebell, Samuel E. Taylor, Tuoxin Cao, Jordan L. Harrison, Jonathan Lifshitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Background: Since their discovery, the morphology of microglia has been interpreted to mirror their function, with ramified microglia constantly surveying the micro-environment and rapidly activating when changes occur. In 1899, Franz Nissl discovered what we now recognize as a distinct microglial activation state, microglial rod cells (Stäbchenzellen), which he observed adjacent to neurons. These rod-shaped microglia are typically found in human autopsy cases of paralysis of the insane, a disease of the pre-penicillin era, and best known today from HIV-1-infected brains. Microglial rod cells have been implicated in cortical 'synaptic stripping' but their exact role has remained unclear. This is due at least in part to a scarcity of experimental models. Now we have noted these rod microglia after experimental diffuse brain injury in brain regions that have an associated sensory sensitivity. Here, we describe the time course, location, and surrounding architecture associated with rod microglia following experimental diffuse traumatic brain injury (TBI).Methods: Rats were subjected to a moderate midline fluid percussion injury (mFPI), which resulted in transient suppression of their righting reflex (6 to 10 min). Multiple immunohistochemistry protocols targeting microglia with Iba1 and other known microglia markers were undertaken to identify the morphological activation of microglia. Additionally, labeling with Iba1 and cell markers for neurons and astrocytes identified the architecture that surrounds these rod cells.Results: We identified an abundance of Iba1-positive microglia with rod morphology in the primary sensory barrel fields (S1BF). Although present for at least 4 weeks post mFPI, they developed over the first week, peaking at 7 days post-injury. In the absence of contusion, Iba1-positive microglia appear to elongate with their processes extending from the apical and basal ends. These cells then abut one another and lay adjacent to cytoarchitecture of dendrites and axons, with no alignment with astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Iba1-positive rod microglial cells differentially express other known markers for reactive microglia including OX-6 and CD68.Conclusion: Diffuse traumatic brain injury induces a distinct rod microglia morphology, unique phenotype, and novel association between cells; these observations entice further investigation for impact on neurological outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number731
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
StatePublished - Oct 30 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain injury
  • Inflammation
  • Microglial rod cells
  • Rod microglia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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