Despite the widespread interest in the clinical applications of hypothermia, the cellular mechanisms of hypothermia-induced neuroprotection have not yet been clearly understood. Therefore, the aim of this study was to elucidate the cellular effects of clinically relevant hypothermia and rewarming on the morphological and functional characteristics of microglia. Microglial cells were exposed to a dynamic cooling and rewarming protocol. For stimulation, microglial cells were treated with 1 μg/mL lipopolysaccharide (LPS). We found that hypothermia led to morphological changes from ramified to ameboid cell shapes. At 2 h after hypothermia and rewarming, microglial cells were again ramified with extended branches. Moreover, we found enhanced cell activation after rewarming, accompanied by increased phagocytosis and adenosine triphosphate consumption. Interestingly, hypothermia and rewarming led to a time-dependent significant up-regulation of the anti-inflammatory cytokines interleukin-10 and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist in stimulated microglial cells. This is in line with the reduced proliferation and time-dependent down-regulation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha and monocyte chemotactic protein-1 in comparison to normothermic control cells after LPS stimulation. Furthermore, degradation of the inhibitor of the nuclear transcription factor-kappaB (IkappaB-alpha) was diminished and delayed under conditions of cooling and rewarming in LPS-stimulated microglial cells. Thus, our results show that hypothermia and rewarming activate microglial cells, increase phagocytosis and shift the balance of cytokine release in stimulated microglial cells towards the anti-inflammatory cytokines. This could be a new cellular mechanism of hypothermia-induced neuroprotection mediated by activated microglial cells.
European Journal of Neuroscience, 2010; 31: 779-787